Sunday, June 9, 2013

Should you Call the Police?

When your child is sexually abused by a friend or relative the blow crushes. I know because I've been there. You're  forced to deal with broken relationship with someone you trusted, as well as dealing with your child's trauma. It feels awful.

It takes strength, but for the sake of your child and the other children in your community, you need to report to the proper law enforcement the crimes that have been committed against your child. It doesn't feel good when you do it.  You feel shame that you weren't able to protect your child. You feel sad and torn because it doesn't feel loving to report someone you love to the police. You are struggling to cope with it--you might have nightmares, you might feel intense anger that you don't know how to accept, you might feel fearful and wonder who else around you isn't trustworthy. You might feel like your whole world is falling apart and you just want to hide your head under your bed covers. You may feel desperate to help your child but feel totally unequipped for the situation and clueless about how to help him or her. You might fret over whether your child is telling you an accurate story about what happened--what if you're falsely accusing another? Take comfort in knowing that it is very rare for children to falsely accuse another of sexual crimes. Also take comfort in knowing that both you and your child have experienced trauma and shock and that by facing the truth you will both eventually heal.

At first, telling the truth to law enforcement may seem to only make life more difficult and painful. The offender will probably deny what they did (at least initially) and will accuse your child of lying or misunderstanding. The friend or relative will reassure you that they would never harm a child. If the perpetrator does eventually confess his abusive actions, he likely will claim that he would never do this again and that you should show your forgiveness by dropping the court case or allowing the perpetrator to have continued contact with your child. Other relatives or friends may also pressure you about "making too big a deal" about his "mistake." They may be angry with you for "rocking the boat." They may blame you for ruining the perpetrator's life. Remember that abuse isn't a mistake and abusers don't voluntarily give up abusing without intensive professional help. It may also help to remember that experts believe that by the time a sexual abuser is caught he is on his 6th-7th victim.

From my personal experiences as an abused child and as a parent of abused children, I know that reporting the crime to the proper authorities will help your child heal. He will feel believed. He will feel safer. Keeping silent about the abuse, on the other hand, can increase your child's sense of shame, lack of security and safety. Sometimes parents wonder if  not talking about the abuse will help the child forget and be less traumatized about the whole incident. However, hiding the abuse doesn't make the child have permanent amnesia about what happened--it just makes them feel worse about what happened and much worse about themselves. You have the opportunity to be your child's advocate and to help them navigate a difficult experience with your love wrapped around him or her.

In addition to helping your own child, you are doing your community a service when you report the abuse. It might protect other children from the same fate at the hands of your child's perpetrator. Silence guarantees that your relative or friend will have the ability to continue abusing--and getting away with it.

Furthermore, reporting the crime that has been committed also gives the relative or friend who perpetrated crime against your child the opportunity to tell the truth and to receive help for his or her problem. He or she won't thank you for doing it--but in the long-run, you're giving him or her the opportunity for a better life.

Sometimes parents want to preserve the relationship with the perpetrator--they don't want to face the loss of a sibling or parent or friend. But keeping the secret can never erase the damage that was done to your relationship, no matter what you say or do. Trust has been broken. It seems surreal to call a friend or relative a "perpetrator," but if that is what they do in secret then it is the only appropriate terminology. A friend who abuses children, isn't the friend you thought they were--and exposing them is a difficult but necessary tough-love type of decision.

A relative who abuses your child will not get better with a family chat--they need at least 2-3 years of intensive psychotherapy to have even a chance of resisting the urge to abuse more children in the future.  To try to continue on as if nothing really happened only opens the door for your child to be re-victimized and reinforces the abuser's belief that he or she is entitled to treat children however he or she wants. The abuser is driven by a conviction that his or her own pleasure is all that matters. Getting in trouble with the law and receiving help from psychologists is the only way that an abuser might learn to care about how his or her abusive actions affect others.

It isn't easy, and many people don't understand how abuse works or how powerfully secrecy works against the victims--but years down the line, you and your child won't regret your call to tell the police about the crime committed against your child. Together you and your child will face the flood of emotions and sort out the confusing thoughts and will emerge as stronger and more loving people.

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