What do you do if your child says these four words "something happened to me" and the thing that happened falls within the spectrum of sexual violence? You love them.
Disclosures from children or teens require our utmost sensitivity, attentiveness, and intentional responses! However, anytime we have been presented with an event, experience, or story that is traumatic we typically have 3 responses: FLIGHT, FIGHT, or FREEZE! This gets played out like this:
FLIGHT: Avoidance of the disclosure, arranging an overload of activities for your family to escape the trauma, sending children away from the harm or possibility of more harm (i.e. to grandparents to live or moving the family away from the place(s) of harm), and/or pretending like what our children just disclosed is not that bad.
FIGHT: Parents may demand a form of justice from law enforcement, some parents will actually cause physical harm to the harmdoer or abuser, and/or there are children that disclose sexual violence and are punished as if they caused or could have prevented the assault/abuse.
FREEZE: Parents may literally stop everything because they have no idea how to deal with such heavy information. These parents may discontinue memberships to churches or gyms, they might stop eating well and taking prescribed medications and/or they might stop the children from engaging in their regular routine in ways that are unnecessary but give the parent comfort.
Before I go on. Parents just like children that disclose will respond to a disclosure the best way they can! Remember part of what happens when we experience trauma is our brain responds based on our past experiences, the fear of the present and future.
Because our brains defend us against trauma.
I am suggesting that we be intentional before, during, and after a disclosure. I pray that you never have to experience your child(ren) dealing with sexual violence on a personal level. But if they disclose I want to share a few tips to respond from a trauma-informed and survivor centered place.
Say that you believe him or her. You are their parent not law enforcement. Your job is to love, nurture, and foster good health for your children not to collect evidence after a sexual assault! I BELIEVE YOU!
Listen first. Our first inclination is to collect evidence when we hear about our child having survived any type of trauma. But you could plant so many beautiful seeds in your child's garden just by listening. LISTEN!
Seek medical attention as soon as possible and be your child's BEST advocate during the visit. Require that the medical personnel ask your child for consent before touching them. And in future annual exams be sure to assert yourself with medical personnel to get your child's consent before they begin exams! Inform your child as is age appropriate that the medical staff may need to file important reports but that you are here with them every step of the way! SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION!
Create a culture of consent in your home and everywhere else your family goes! Remember that your child's body is their own and they have every right at every age to give consent to be touched, hugged, and/or kissed from the most safest and loving people! GET CONSENT!
You are not alone!