ORGANISATIONS aligned to looking after the well-being of children have spoken out about the seriousness of sexual abuse of minors. Maritzburg Fever spoke to Lifeline and Child Welfare about the effects that sexual abuse has on children and how to help parents cope if their children are victims. According to Julie Todd, director at child welfare, the effects are both physical and behavioural. It impacts different children in different ways depending on, among other things, the age of the child at the time of the abuse, the nature of the abuse, whether any physical violence was used and their psycho-social well-being at the time of the abuse.“Children tend to feel responsible for the abuse. If the child is close to the perpetrator, in an effort to make the child keep the secret, the perpetrator may try to make them feel responsible for their situation by saying things like ‘your mom and/or dad won’t understand, and then I will lose my job and I will get sent away and my children or you won’t have a daddy’,” said Todd. According to Todd, while the effects of sexual abuse does not differ from boy to girl, more shame is felt by boys and there is more reluctance to report the abuse. “Children need to know that it is not their fault that this has happened to them and nothing they did or didn’t do has caused it. They need reassurance and support. “A parent needs to be supportive, to avoid blame and, although it’s difficult, try to refrain from extreme emotions, particularly anger, as the perpetrator would have already groomed the child in such a way to pre-empt this and would have possibly told the child ‘if you tell, your parents will get angry and mad and will be cross with you’. “Even though the anger would be directed at the alleged perpetrator, the child would not necessarily view it that way and if parents argue and fight about it with each other or with others, the child will often feel responsible for causing this upset and may wish he or she had never said anything,” she said. Sinikiwe Biyela, director of Lifeline Pietermaritzburg, said that it is not common among children to fabricate sexual abuse stories. “Children don’t talk about sex normally. When do they talk about it means they have observed sexual activities or it has happened to them. When such claims are made, it is always recommended that the child is taken to a hospital for assessment,” she said.Biyela added that children need both medical and psychological interventions if there is sexual abuse. “Child sexual abuse brings lots of trauma to the child’s life. This traumatic experience is like an infected wound that will not heal unless treated. Some parents are under the impression that the child will forget and move on. This is the biggest mistake parents make. If children are not supported fully, they do not recover from the effect of sexual abuse.”Todd and Biyela expressed the importance of parents seeking help in order to better support their children. “In counselling sessions parents will gain skills to better support the survivor and to manage the effects of abuse at home. “Parents have to work hand in hand with the therapist to achieve the best results,” said Biyela. Todd said that communication is important. “Keep communication open and be supportive. Don’t feel bad if your child chooses not to open up to you and don’t try and pressure them to do so. “The important thing is that the child feels loved and supported and how this is done will differ for each child depending on, among other things, the child’s individual psyche as well as the family dynamics and how the parents cope with everything.”Recommended psychological help for sexual abuse victims from Lifeline:•Therapeutic intervention to help the child cope with sexual abuse. These sessions are not once-off, the child needs to be given sufficient time to express his or her feelings and be assisted to cope. They also need to be prepared for the court case, and other legal processes that follows.•Parental involvement in therapeutic sessions is very important. Parents are also affected by this traumatic incident, they go through a number of emotions including anger, fear, lack of trust, they suffer from guilt and self-blame. They also need to be counselled in order to support the survivors better. •Survivors spend most of their time at home, therefore parents or caregivers of the survivors needs to be equipped with the skills to manage the issues, and they need to learn ways of supporting the survivor, who is going through the effects of sexual abuse.•Sometime siblings of the survivors are also affected, and they need to be supported. Half of the time, they are forgotten as most of the attention is given to the survivor. For any assistance contact Child Welfare at 033 342 8971, visit the offices at 224 Hoosen Haffejee Street, contact Lifeline at 033 342 4447 or visit their offices at 14 Princess Street.