A youth facilitator and advocate, Dr. Grace John-Ugwuanya, has appealed to parents and guardians to pay attention to their children and believe them when they report abuse.
Reacting to a video where a young girl accused her father of taking away her virginity at age 10 and had continued sleeping with her ever since, John-Ugwuanya urged parents not to take reports of abuse for granted.
The girl told the interviewer in the video that her father slept with her at least three times a week, deceiving her that it was a normal thing. She also said she reported to her mother but she did nothing about it.
Analysing the video, Dr. John-Ugwuanya lamented that the mother in this case failed to protect her daughter from her father’s abuse; failed to believe her when she reported the abuse or chose to trivialise the gravity of the sexual abuse as well as failed to take any action to stop the abuse.
This failure, according to John-Ugwuanya, has had a devastating impact on the girl who became the helpless victim and suffered years of trauma and sexual abuse.
“If the mother had done things differently, she would have believed her daughter when she reported the abuse; she would have taken steps to protect her daughter from her father, by removing her from the home or reporting the abuse to the law enforcement authorities.
“She would have also provided her daughter with support and counseling to help her heal from the trauma of the abuse. The video reminded me of lots of conversations I have had with some youths and they outrightly say ‘Please don’t tell my mum’ or ‘Even if I tell her, she will not do anything but blame me that it’s my fault’,”
While she appealed to all women, mothers, guardians, and good fathers to pay attention to their children and act promptly when they report abuse; she submitted that the safety of young ones is paramount.
“If you suspect that a child is being abused, please report it to the authorities immediately. Note that young children rarely lie about abuse, so take them seriously when they run to you,” she advise.
When parents believe and support their children, it strengthens the bond of trust between them.
Experts say children need to feel safe and secure enough to share their experiences openly with their parents. Believing them when they report abuse fosters open communication, making it more likely that they’ll come forward in the future if they face any problems.
How to respond if a child tells you about sexual abuse
The raisingchildren.net.au, an Australian parenting website, if your child or a child you’re caring for tells you that they or someone they know has experienced sexual abuse, it’s natural to feel anger, shock or worry but that it is important for you to put your feelings aside for a time and help your child feel safe and able to tell you about what has happened.
Here’s how to respond and help your child talk about sexual abuse:
§ Be patient and try to stay calm. Try taking slow, deep breaths.
§ Listen carefully to your child without interrupting. Give your child your full attention. Let your child tell the story in their own words and at their own pace. Let your child know that you will listen, no matter what.
§ Try not to ask too many questions. This can stop a child from telling you their story and might create problems for future legal procedures. But it’s important to check whether your child is in immediate danger.
§ If you need to ask anything, use open-ended questions like ‘What happened next?’ Avoid leading questions like ‘Did he touch you?’
§ Believe your child. Tell your child that you believe them, even if what your child is saying seems unreal or doesn’t make sense at first.
§ Tell your child that it’s not their fault, they are not to blame, and they won’t be punished, no matter what.
§ Tell your child they have done the right thing by telling you. Your child has been brave to tell you about the abuse, so acknowledge your child’s courage.
§ Talk with your child about how you can help them feel safe and loved. Be prepared to do what your child needs you to do.
After a child tells you about sexual abuse, it is possible that he/she might not tell you everything at once. Your child might tell you more about it gradually over several days or weeks. Be patient and give your child time to share experiences and feelings.
It’s also important to be available in case your child wants to share more or needs you to be around to feel safe. This could mean staying at home with your child, taking time off work, picking your child up from school, and checking in with your child regularly.
Your child might ask you to promise not to tell anyone else. You can’t make that promise. But you can say that you’ll do your best to keep your child safe.
What to do next?
Since child sexual abuse is illegal, you should report to the appropriate quarters if you think that your child or the child you’re caring for has experienced sexual abuse or you think there’s an immediate risk of abuse.
You can talk to the police or child protection officers. These people are trained to know about child sexual abuse and how to relate to children who have or might have experienced it. And they can give you advice on what steps to take next.