Children who are being hurt or made to feel uncomfortable by an older child or adult will have some or all of the feelings described below.
Sexually abused children often feel that they have done something wrong and are fearful that their family will reject them. They may also fear that their parent will do something to the offender which will send the parent to jail and away from the child. Assure the child that you love them and you will let the police investigate and the judge decide what should happen.
They may also be afraid of the abuser. It is not unusual for abusers to threaten children to keep them silent. Common threats are to kill the child, the parents, or a favorite pet, if the child tells anyone about the abuse. If threats were made, the child needs assurance that the abuser will not be able to carry out the threat. The child need to know that the purpose of the threats was to stop the child from telling what happened.
Guilt and Shame
Children often blame themselves. They can't always tell the difference between "I did something bad" and "something bad happened to me." Sometimes abusers tell children that their parents will not love them any more if they find out because the child has been bad by participating in the sexual activity. Guilt feelings may be even stronger if the child has disobeyed and the abuse occurred while a rule was being broken. In this case, the child may need special reassurance from parents that nothing the child did caused the abuse. Put the shame on the abuser, where it belongs.
If there was no violence or force, the sexual activity may have felt good to the child. This can be confusing when the child finds out that it was against the law. Again, the child needs assurance that the abuser was wrong to make them feel pleasure in that way. Do not expect your child to have understood that the adult behavior was wrong when it was occurring. Even if the child realized it was wrong, it is very difficult for children to say no to adults. Express your understanding of the child's feelings and let the child know that they are not at fault.
Depression and Isolation
Children may be depressed if they believe that everyone knows about the abuse. Point out to them that very few people know about the abuse. Explain to your child that he or she is not alone, and that many children have been sexually abused. Children sometimes feel that they are different from other children because of the abuse. They may even feel that the abuse has made them look different. Assure them that they are still the same. Have them look in the mirror with you to see that they still look the same.
Stress to your child that he or she should feel comfortable telling you anything, especially if it involves another adult. If your child does not feel comfortable being completely honest with you, then together you should find another trusted adult your child can talk to in confidence.