Our attorneys focus on holding institutions responsible for allowing abuse to occur. We typically do not handle matters involving abuse by a personal acquaintance, family member, or other individual outside of an organization.
It is devastating to think that your child may be experiencing any type of harm at the hands of another person, but suspecting your child may have been molested is mortifying. To make matters worse, molestation is a sensitive topic that must be handled delicately when talking to your child.
The team at Boucher LLP has many years of experience with sexual abuse and harassment cases in California. Many of these cases involve young children. We understand how hard it is to discuss these adult concepts with children and how uncomfortable it can be if you are not prepared.
To help you navigate the topic, we would like to provide some advice on where to start and how to frame this very serious conversation with the child in your care.
How to Ask Your Child About Molestation
Carefully choose the time and place to have a conversation with your child about molestation. Depending on the age of your child, they may be easily distracted, or avoid the conversation by diverting attention to something else that is happening at the same time.
Consider what vocabulary is appropriate given the age of your child. What words are going to make the most sense? The last thing you want to do is complicate the dialog by having to stop and explain word meanings.
In these situations, it is often best to allow the child to do most of the talking. You do not want to steer them in a particular direction. Instead, ask general questions and gauge each response without making assumptions.
What Questions to Ask Your Child About Molestation
Clear, but open-ended questions are a great starting point. Though having an extemporaneous conversation may seem like the best idea, you may want to consider brainstorming specific questions so that you are not caught off guard.
Start with an opening question and have a plan for what to ask next depending on which way the conversation goes. Make sure the questions are not overly leading. You want to make sure the child’s answers are genuine.
When considering how to as a child about molestation, one way to start the conversation is by asking the child about the details of their day.
- What did they do?
- Who did they come in contact with?
- What were their interactions like with that person?
- How did that make them feel?
- Has that happened before?
This is a great example of how to naturally progress a conversation with your child without seeming invasive. Allowing them to explain things in their own words will also help with their comfort level and ability to communicate without being led.
Not all children will follow the direct line of thinking that comes from a progressive conversation. Depending on their age and personality, your child might need slight prompts to address the issues more directly. Here are some examples of what questions to ask your child about molestation:
- Have you ever been hurt by someone taking care of you?
- Has anyone touched you in a way that is weird or doesn’t feel good?
- Did anyone at the _____ make you feel uncomfortable?
- Has anyone asked you to keep a secret from me?
The question about keeping a secret can be especially important. Many abusers rely on the child “keeping their secret” to continue their behavior. Assure your child that it is ok to divulge the secret even if they have promised not to.
Talking About Body Safety
Frame your conversation around the term “safety” rather than “abuse.” Children of all ages are more likely to understand the concept of safety and protecting themselves. Explain the difference between normal, safe touching, and unsafe touching. Safe touching may include a hug from mom before bed, or an examination at the doctor’s office. Unsafe may include inappropriate tickling, fondling, or games that involve uncomfortable touching.
Let your child know that if they are ever touched in a way that makes them feel unsafe, uncomfortable, or confused, they can come to you and will not be punished.
Remain Calm and Non-Judgmental
Keeping a cool head if you determine your child has been molested will not be easy, but intense reactions could backfire and confuse your child as to whether they have said something they should not have. The child should not feel like they have done anything wrong by being honest. Addressing child molestation is a serious and delicate undertaking. Remember to breathe and stay calm (easier said than done).
It is important to constantly reassure the child that they can talk to you about anything and that there will not be any judgment. Children generally seek approval and may be afraid that they have done something wrong or be embarrassed by what has occurred. Make sure they know that they are safe with you and can talk openly. You are there to support and protect them.
Believe Your Child
Children can have exciting imaginations, but rarely make false, unprompted allegations of molestation. Your first response should be to believe them. Even if something seems out of place, give your child the benefit of the doubt. Expressing disbelief may discourage them from additional communication about the topic. In older children, fear that they will not be believed may be the primary reason that they choose not to come forward.
What Should You Do If Your Child Was Molested?
The first thing you should do is protect the child from further interaction with their abuser. Seek medical treatment if needed, and consider a consultation with a trained mental health professional who has experience with childhood sexual abuse victims. According to the CDC, childhood sexual abuse can have short- and long-term physical, mental, and behavioral health consequences. Therapists can use age-appropriate techniques to encourage the child to share and process their experiences.
Taking Legal Action
Child molestation is a serious legal offense. Consider reporting the abuse to the local authorities and filing a restraining order. If the abuser is a school employee, make sure to inform the school district. They are required to investigate and take reasonable steps to ensure all students are safe.
You may also have the option to file a lawsuit against the perpetrator. Civil lawsuits provide monetary compensation for the damages caused. If the abuser had access to your child because of an institutional relationship such as a church, school, daycare, or youth organization, the institution may also be liable for failure to protect your child.
Pursuing Justice for Your Child
The team at Boucher LLP is committed to pursuing every person and institution that contributed to the harm your child endured. Though no amount of money can make up for how your child has suffered, monetary awards can serve to punish wrongdoers. Taking legal action can also expose the things they did, preventing them from being swept under the rug. We hope to help find a sense of justice and closure for you and your family. Contact Boucher LLP for a case consultation.