If You Suspect Abuse
We hope you never have to have this conversation, but if you have a bad feeling that your child might have been abused, there are steps you should take.
Ask questions. To encourage your child to talk, simple, open-ended queries such as “What’s the best thing about going to Sam’s house?” or “What’s the worst thing about going to his house?” help open up discussion, says Doty. You can also preface a conversation with something that gives the child some freedom. For example, you might say, “I remember once I did something that I thought my Dad and Mom would be upset about, so I didn’t want to tell them. But I finally did tell them and it was okay. Has anything like that happened to you?”
Look for changes in your child. Signs that something might be going on:
- Sexual behavior that is way beyond their years (a 4-year-old imitating sexual humping, for example, or using R-rated words for body parts that they’ve never used before)
- Regressive behavior (acting much younger than they are)
- Increased dependency on non-abusing adults
- Withdrawal and isolation from others
- Increased aggressiveness or hostility
- Sudden fear of the dark
- Frequent nightmares
- Changes in sleep (either insomnia or increased sleeping)
Act quickly. If you suspect something, stop all contact between your child and the person, then call your state’s children’s protective services hotline. The hotline professionals may also instruct you to call 911, as well. Don’t confront the suspect, as that only gives them time to mount a defense. If you’re unsure if anything has happened and worried about slandering a possibly innocent person’s name, “always err on the side of protecting kids,” advises Rivette.