HOW TO SUPPORT YOUR CHILD AFTER A SEXUAL ASSAULT
PAVE has launched tools for parents including videos and printed materials that feature how to talk to your kids about consent and healthy relationships. The series also includes how to respond if your child discloses that they have been sexually assaulted.
Why it’s important:
Studies show that the first person a survivor discloses to can have a tremendous impact on their healing process. A lot of times, parents are in this position, which means that first initial conversation is tremendously important.
This can happen to anyone:
Any parent wants the best for their child, and wants to have confidence that they have taught their child the skills they need to be safe. Unfortunately, while we can try to reduce our child’s risk for violence, the only way to prevent sexual assault and dating violence is to change the mindset of people who think violent and abusive behavior is acceptable. It is normal to feel a sense of self-blame as a parent, but it is important to remember this is not your or your child’s fault. Having a child who has been sexually assaulted doesn’t mean that you’re a bad parent or that you have failed your child, it means that someone else has made the choice to take your child’s rights away from them.
Believing and Supporting:
Oftentimes when we hear that someone we love and care about has been hurt, our initial reaction can be to deny or try to rationalize what happened. However, reactions to a disclosure that come across as minimizing or disbelieving can foster a sense of self blame and a lack of trust in others.
- Use phrases like “I’m really glad you came to me to tell me about that” and “I believe you and am here for you”. These can show your child that you believe them and you don’t think that what happened was their fault.
- Use open-ended questions that allow your child to explain what happened to the extent they feel comfortable. This can help you avoid coming across as if you are interrogating them or blaming them.
- Offer options to your child such as counseling, reporting, or going to the hospital to document injuries and collect evidence in case they want to pursue a case.
- Ask excessive questions about what they were doing, what they were wearing, whether or not they were drinking, or why they didn’t call for help. This can come across as if you are blaming them for causing their assault.
- Decide for your child that they have to report, go to counseling, or go to the hospital without consulting them first. Sexual assault is a crime that takes power and control away from a survivor. Therefore it is critical to their recovery process that they have power and control over their healing and recovery process.
- Avoid acknowledging or talking about what happened.
- Question their sexual orientation based on the gender of the perpetrator. This can come across as minimizing or questioning their identity.
- Ask about your child’s previous sexual history. This can come across as blaming your child for the assault.
Know what resources are out there:
There are sexual assault services providers across the country that have amazing advocates that can help survivors navigate options for medical care, reporting, emotional support, and other resources they have available to them. Having someone who is equipped to help, knows how to navigate different agencies including school systems and the criminal justice system, and knows what services and resources are in the area can be
Acknowledge that this can emotionally affect you as well:
Family members and friends of a survivor of sexual assault or dating violence can experience secondary trauma. It is essential to ask for and seek out help as a parent/brother/sister of a survivor. You are allowed to feel pain and you are allowed to ask for help.
TALKING TO YOUR TEENAGERS ABOUT CONSENT AND HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS
A lot of times the only representation of sexual assault in news and media is violent assault committed by a stranger. In reality most assaults are committed by someone the survivor knows, and often emotional manipulation or drugs and alcohol are used, not violence. Make sure you are teaching teenagers the five essentials of getting consent: verbal, sober, enthusiastic, freely given, and consistent.
Media, peers, educators, and families unintentionally normalize gender roles, which can undermine consent and respect in relationships. Girls are taught to be submissive and accommodating whereas boys are taught to be assertive and in control. As parents, we can challenge these gender stereotypes to create a safer more respectful world.
What Do You Look for in a Partner?
One way to talk to your teens about healthy relationships is to ask them what they would look for in a romantic partner.
Use this as a starting point to talk to your teens about abusive behaviors that can look romantic such as extreme jealousy, possessiveness, and control. Emphasize positive qualities such as communication, respect, and boundaries.
Ask your teenager what they would do if they saw one of their friends doing something that was potentially non-consensual or abusive. Talk about what insecurities or obstacles might prevent them from responding and help them brainstorm ways to intervene. This not only helps prepare your teenager for a potential situation where they have an opportunity to help, but also lets them know what dating behavior is or isn’t healthy.
Use News Stories
Talking about sexual assault or domestic violence cases that have been in the news can be a way to talk about these issues with teens abstractly, which can make the conversation more comfortable and less accusatory. Point out to your kids the ways in which the language journalists use can shift the blame from the perpetrator’s actions to what the survivor did to cause their assault. This creates a world where sexual assault is excused and survivors are shamed into silence and self-blame.
Talk in the Car
Many parents have found success talking to teenagers about dificult topics while driving in the car. It’s informal and there is a lot less direct eye contact in the car, which can help make teenagers feel more at ease and less judged throughout the conversation.