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Question: A friend of my daughters told me that a family member “touches her under her pajamas.” I wasn’t sure what to do at the time, but told her that it was good that she told me and I went ahead and told her parents. I am actually not sure whether the story is really true? I felt terrible for the parents, but figured the girl wouldn’t make up a story like this. Did I do the right thing by telling her parents?

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Answer: The first thing that comes to my mind is that you are a trusted person in this young girl’s life.   Here she is with a very big secret she’s been holding inside for a long time, and she chooses you to tell it to. This speaks volumes about the strong relationship you have built with her and most likely with your daughter too.   It’s important to recognize this. The next thing that comes to mind in reading your question is that you are having a very normal reaction to hearing this type of information about a family you know and like.

It sounds to me that what your daughter’s friend disclosed was sexual abuse, and by telling her parents you acted to protect her from further abuse. So, the short answer to your question is “yes;” you did the right thing by believing her and telling her parents.   I hope that they were able to accept her story as true and are now in the process of keeping her safe and getting her some additional help to heal from this abuse.

This young girl’s experience of sexual abuse is more common than we’d like to believe. It goes against so many of our collective values that we want to believe only bad, scary people living on the margins of society would do such things.   What we know is that abusers are usually a trusted family member, friend or other authority figure; a fact that can make the recovery from it so devastating to the young person and his or her family. Ultimately, it is an abuse of power and a violation of a child’s right to normal, healthy, trusting relationships, and it can negatively affect every aspect of a person’s life.

I want to highlight a few important things to do when a child discloses abuse for you and other readers. Believe them and get them help. Speak in a matter of fact voice, and maintain outwardly calm. Do not promise to keep the secret. It would help to say that what she disclosed will have to be reported, but only to people who can help her get safe. Let them know they did the right thing by telling you. “…It must have been really hard to keep this secret to yourself. I’m so glad you told me so we can get you some help.” Tell them the abuse was not their fault. Maintain confidentiality and exercise discretion when discussing the details of the disclosure. Too often young people are further violated by people who, in trying to be helpful, completely disregard the desire for privacy and control over who knows.

British Columbia’s mandatory reporting laws take the guess work out of whether to report abuse once you know about it. Any adult who has been told directly or who suspects a child is being abused, is obliged to phone the Ministry for Child and Family Development to report the abuse. If you have questions on next steps, the Child Protection worker at the Ministry can guide you.

Once a disclosure has been made, it’s important for the victim to see a therapist who specializes in childhood sexual abuse. There are many excellent private and agency counselors on the North Shore with this expertise. Here at Family Services of the North Shore, our Child and Adolescent Sexual Abuse program offers counseling free of charge to children and teens that have experienced sexual abuse.  

This young girl’s disclosure to you took a lot of courage, and I hope it marks the beginning of safety and healing from the abuse. Recovery can be a slow and painful process for kids and their families, but early intervention is an important first step. Between her parents’ support, good friends like you, and a skilled therapist, she has a very good chance of going on to have a happy, healthy and productive life.

 

Valerie Lev Dolgin, M.A., R.C.C., is a therapist in the Child and Adolescent Sexual Abuse program at Family Services of the North Shore. Questions? Write This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or call 604.988.5281