What to do if your child has been molested

By Drum Digital
24 July 2014

It’s a nightmarish thought no parent even wants to contemplate but what do you do when your child has been molested? Our experts tell you what to look out for, how to react and where to report it.

A grandmother reaches out

A distraught grandmother in our SuperMom community recently shared her story with us after the family found out her granddaughter was being molested at school. The young girl is in Grade 2 and her grandmother writes: “I would like to alert other parents to molestation at schools since we’ve received absolutely no help from this school. We’ve taken the child out of the school and reported the case to the police, but it’s been under investigation for five months, the perpetrator hasn’t been arrested and the counsellor that the school recommended charges R800 a session, which we can’t afford.”

A helping hand

Lynne Cawood, director of Childline Gauteng, says it’s a terrible situation for a parent or child to find themselves in and recommends the parents contact Childline with the details of the case as soon as possible. Childline will help them find a therapist close to them and offer guidance on this specific case. “Our counselling sessions are free of charge and the Childline helpline can also help to follow up the case with the SAPS if they have the case details,” says Cawood.

Do this

Cawood says the most important thing in helping a child recover is for the mother to have a strong, open relationship with the child, take it seriously and take action immediately. “A warm relationship between mother and child limits psychological damage to the child,” she adds.

Once it’s been reported and the child removed from the dangerous situation, keep this in mind:

  • Let them talk, but be sensitive to their needs. Some children want to talk about it; others need time to open up. Read cues and be directed by your child’s behaviour. Talking is part of the healing process but the child shouldn’t feel forced into it as the molestation was also forced onto them and they need to regain a sense of autonomy. Also remember they’ll have to tell their story to multiple people in the criminal justice system and it could be traumatic for them. Counselling can be very helpful in this process.
  • Ensure they feel safe. Increase security at home, make sure the child is not left alone if they feel scared and go with them to the SAPS and medical examination. Try to keep your own pain contained so as not to further upset the child.
  • Keep the child informed. Explain to them what’s happening when they go for the examination and to the police so that they feel they’re taking part in the process, but do this in an age-appropriate way. A Grade 2 child will for example not understand or need to know everything a pre-teen needs to know.
  • Welcome questions. Cawood says though questions from the child about the abuse may be traumatic for the parents they should welcome it as it shows the child is ready to deal with the issue. Always tell your child the truth to establish trust but answer in a way that’s clear, age-appropriate and won’t make them more fearful.
  • Respect your child’s right to privacy and confidentiality. Talking about the experience to people other than the authorities will make the child feel exposed.
  • Eradicate guilt and give support. Make sure the child understands the abuse isn’t their fault and that you’ll support them through the entire process. Knowing you’re there will help them to recover a positive way of looking at the world.
  • Be sensitive to changes in the child’s behaviour. Some children may act out after abuse as a way of dealing with negative emotions. React kindly but stick to your boundaries and rules. This helps the child to feel safe and to know their safe space (home) hasn’t been compromised. Try to return to routine family functioning as far as possible.
  • Get counselling. Get help for yourself too. It will help you to better support your child, yourself and family.

Report it

Here are the steps you can expect in the process of reporting sexual abuse of a child:

  1. Report the case to the SAPS.
  2. The SAPS will refer parents to the local Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Unit.
  3. An officer will take the child to a medical legal clinic for a forensic report, for ARVs to be administered as well as a prevention of pregnancy pill, if the situation calls for it. The police should also refer the child to counselling.
  4. If there’s enough evidence, the SAPS will refer the case to the National Prosecuting Authority for prosecution and the perpetrator will be arrested. The school is then also expected to take action on the matter.

Childline can help with the above process, as well as finding counselling in your area. The organisation’s national helpline is 08000-55-555 and the website childline.org.za offers more specific numbers for each province. It can also assist in finding a safe house if necessary.

Signs of sexual abuse in children

Childline says these are common symptoms experienced by children who are victims of molestation.

  • Knowledge of sexual matters that are inappropriate for their age.
  • Sexualised or seductive behaviour including compulsive masturbation and sexualised interaction with younger children.
  • Dressing in many layers of clothes.
  • Absence from school with unusual or without any explanations.
  • Loss of or increase in appetite.
  • Urinary infections or itching in the genital area.
  • Suicidal or self-destructive behaviour including self-mutilation.
  • Change in mood including irritability, depression or unusual anger.
  • Poor concentration which results in lowered scholastic performance.
  • Isolation.
  • Regressed or babyish behaviour.
  • Bedwetting or soiling.
  • Aggression.
  • Sleeping problems including nightmares.
  • Psychosomatic complaints.

-Dalena Theron

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