The Primary Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse
Primary prevention, not primarily reaction.

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Get Help For Someone Else

In addition to this guide, there is a fantastic resource available and guide to complex conversations from Stop It Now! that can help you talk with someone you think needs help. This section is also related to the similar page on this site, How To Have A Conversation, which is an overview of why you would have these conversations and how to get that process started.

A Brief Introduction

You need to bear three things in mind when using this section: First, you cannot make someone improve themselves, it must be their choice. Second, encouraging someone to get help with most issues, particularly sexual issues, is a series of conversations, not a one-time event. Third, "Get help!" is not a slogan that you use to hurt people, it is a compassionate plea for someone to better themselves.

When helping someone see that the choices they are making are causing some concern, you can think of this sort of as an intervention, but without the pressure: Your job is to clearly communicate your perspective on someone else's behavior, ask questions for more understanding, and offer alternative solutions and resources. The point is to care enough to notice that something seems off, and help them see what that is. From there, it is their choice. You can only control you, and it is up to them to control them.

When helping someone with an issue, it will almost always be a series of conversations. Not only are people slow to change, they are slow to see themselves from another point of view, and you are essentially trying to do both. It will take time, and you will need to clearly communicate not only what you are seeing that concerns you (such as some of the behavioral signs covered in prevention), but also have dialogues with them that show that you care.

Finally, when helping someone, you are not there to shame, ridicule, harass, nag, or badger someone into doing what you want them to do. Telling them that they are sick and need help is a form of shaming, and does not show the person that you care. That will communicate to the person in question that you are not a safe person to talk to, that you care more about their behavior than you do about them, and they will close themselves off to the conversation. You do not want them to shut down, because this can lead to them keeping secrets and a variety of other unhelpful behaviors that can fuel bad decisions. You want them to be open to having conversations, and to having future conversations.


Before The Conversations

Before you start conversations with the person you are concerned about, it is helpful to know some things in advance. By having these conversations, you may find out information from the person that might scare you or make you uncomfortable. You might feel guilty. You may hear something that you do not have experience with, like maybe the person struggles with drugs or alcohol, or they have sexual attractions to children. It is helpful to be ready to say, "We both learned a lot just now. Can we come back to this later? I think it would be helpful to think about this and come back to it." You may need time to find resources to better address your situation, and you will want someone who knows you are going to have these conversations that you can turn to for advice and perspective.

You may also find out that a child was sexually abused. In this case, you need to know how to report it and what your options are for getting professionals involved. It may also be helpful to know what your resources are, in case you need them. Know what therapists specialize in major mental health needs, such as sexual needs, emotional needs, compulsive behaviors, eating disorders, or personality disorders. Have several clinics in mind that can take on new patients or make recommendations for resources. In the “Get Help” section, you can click on “For Yourself”: The two sections “I Like Kids” and “Lots Of Stress” have these materials.

You also need an idea of what you hope to accomplish. Sometimes, it is helpful to accept that these conversations could go anywhere. Sometimes, it is helpful to set a boundary ahead of time: If you know there are some things you cannot handle, you may need to have resources ready to give for those areas and be ready to tell the person that for your own health, you need to direct them to another resource for follow-up. You may be ready and willing to walk with the other person, no matter what. Much of these conversations depend on you and what you can handle, and what the other person is ready to share.

Starting Conversations

Arguably the most difficult part of knowing that someone needs help and getting them that help is starting the conversation. It is at this critical stage that most of us humans start to have doubts. Did I really see that, or am I assuming something? Is it really a big enough deal, or am I paranoid? How did I feel about that? We want to give people the benefit of the doubt, and this can sometimes interfere with our ability to see behavior objectively. If you observed something one time, but then a few hours later see a video of what you had observed, you would understand more about what you are seeing than you did the first time.

That is why, in the behavioral signs covered in prevention, you are encouraged to write down problematic behaviors when you observe them. The point is not to be a detective, but to make a note for yourself to use for reference later. The point is to have several concrete examples of behavior you saw and how you felt, to use when starting your conversation with the person. You can then point to some examples (pick two or three), and ask for more information so that you can understand them and what you saw: "Help me understand this," is going to be much more effective than "I think you're a pervert." According to the statistics about sexual abuse, it is very likely that the conversations you might have will be with people you care about and spend time with.

Starting the conversation may be as simple as noting something you saw and how it made you feel, but you need to communicate clearly with the other person. They need to know that you care about them, end of story. Sometimes, telling the person that you are not accusing them of anything, and you just want to know more about what you saw can be helpful. Sometimes, telling the person how much you care and how difficult it is for you to ask questions can be helpful. Below is a nice graphic of helpful vs. unhelpful words or phrases.


More Helpful

  • Tell me more about that
  • I care about you
  • This is hard for me
  • Specific behaviors like "tickling his/her private areas"
  • I noticed...
  • Were you aware that you sometimes...
  • I felt uncomfortable when I saw...


Less Helpful

  • Why did you...
  • Obviously you're just...
  • Using labels like "pervert" or "monster"
  • Unspecific behaviors like "fooling around"
  • Accusations
  • Jumping to conclusions
  • Using euphemisms like "you're one of those people"

 Having A Dialogue

Having a dialogue about what you saw and whatever the person is willing to share with you needs to be a casual series of conversations. The end goal is to understand the other person, so that you can direct them to the appropriate resources or navigate to those resources alongside the person. The talks should be private, to boost the confidence of the person that you will not share their information with other people (at least until you know more). The point of these dialogues is to put the other person at ease, and to paint yourself as someone they can trust and be honest with. You will have to control your reactions if they share something that is uncomfortable to you, and you need to be prepared to ask more questions, even if you would rather not know the answers.  

Sometimes, these conversations may be too much for you and you will need to take a break. Sometimes, you will need insight regarding what you are hearing from the person you are speaking with. It may be helpful to discuss your concerns with a friend of the person, to get their perspective on your conversations, concerns, and observations. More perspectives on the issue can help you determine if there is cause for concern, or if nothing is amiss. 

 Setting Boundaries

In having these conversations, you may find that you need to set boundaries for the person with which you are in dialogue. Sometimes, they may be simple boundaries that come up depending on the situation. Setting these boundaries can help you determine how the person does with boundaries: Do they respect the boundaries you are setting, or do they ignore them? Setting boundaries, even simple ones like not swearing, can help you get a read for the person's character. They can also help the other person know that you respect them, and you want them to respect you. They communicate to them that you care enough about the relationship you have with them to set limits. 

You may also find out more information that warrants more difficult boundaries, like not spending time alone with children. Perhaps you are in a religious community, and what you hear warrants conversations with faith leaders in your community. No matter what the situation, there are resources to help you. Stop It Now! is a fantastic place to start for individualized help, and your community may have non-profits that specialize in whatever area you need.