There are no hard and fast rules that dictate how to respond when a child comes to you and tells you he or she is being abused. Common sense dictates that care must be taken to protect the child and honor the courage it takes to disclose. The following are a few guidelines that may help:
Remain calm and show concern but try not to act overly alarmed.
- A child may retract information or stop talking if he or she senses a strong reaction.
Allow the child to tell his or her story in their own way.
Avoid probing or leading questions.
Let the child know that what happened is not his or her fault. Listen without passing judgment.
Most children know their abusers and often have confused feelings.
Do not investigate yourself – The Department of Family Services (DFS) and local law enforcement agencies are charged with this responsibility.
Do not make promises you cannot keep.
Let the child know that you will be talking to other people who may be able to help keep them safe.
Contact the Department of Family Services hotline at (702) 399-0081 and law enforcement to report the disclosure.
Let the child know you will be available if they want to talk again.
Signs and Symptoms That a Child May Be Experiencing Sexual Abuse
The following signs may signal the presence of child abuse or neglect:
- Sudden fear of a particular place or person
- Extreme mood swings, unexplained depressions and excessive crying
- Moodiness and withdrawal from normal family activity and affection- or the opposite, extreme clinginess to a “safe” family member and extreme fearfulness when separated from that person
- Sudden changes in personality
- Behavior and other problems in school (grades dropping, etc.)
- Running away from home
- Telling lies
- Suddenly has money from unexplained source
- Self-destructive behavior
- Fear of the dark and fear of going to bed (new demands for a night light)
- Problems with sleep- can’t sleep, nightmares, bedwetting, sleepwalking, etc.
- Changes in eating habits
- Unexplained stomach upsets and aches
- Difficulty at bath time
- Changes in bathroom or toilet-training habits
- Regressive behavior such as thumb sucking or signs of dependency that were earlier outgrown
- Pain, itching, redness, soreness, unusual discharge from genital area
- Difficulty in walking (limping) or sitting
- Bruises, rashes, cuts, and other hurts that child can not or seems unwilling to explain
- Torn, stained or bloody underwear
- Inappropriate displays of affection and sexual “acting out”
- Use of sexual terminology not normal to age level of peers
- New names for body parts
- Unusual interest in sexual matters
- Sudden acting out- aggressive or rebellious behavior- against siblings, or other family members, with friends, violent play with dolls and other toys, hurting animals
To learn more please visit the following resources:
Southern Nevada Children's Advocacy Center (SNCAC) Process — Explains changes that have been made in the child abuse system and the process children go through when they need help for abuse
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) Promise Video — Information about how sexual abuse impacts children and how therapy can help
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) Child Sexual Abuse Fact Sheet — Provides important information about child sexual abuse
7 Steps to Protecting Our Children — Brought to you by Darkness to Light: End Child Sexual Abuse