It is the position of this site that individuals with knowledge of a crime against child/ren should report that crime to law enforcement.
What follows is a process that can help you make that decision, and give you options, like child advocacy centers and child protective services, that still report crimes against children to law enforcement, but also give therapeutic support to you and the child in question throughout that process.
If your child, or a child you know, has told you that someone has touched their penis or vagina, or made a similar statement, then they are very likely telling the truth. The false reporting rate of child sexual abuse is typically under 10% and most advocates will ballpark the false reporting rate at 4-8%. False reports of sexual abuse are more typically generated by adults who report, not children saying they were abused. It is very important that you know exactly what actions to take if this ever occurs, and you need to know the benefits of reporting the situation to law enforcement and what resources you have.
I need to stop here, for your sake. How are you feeling right now? What is going through your mind? If you are feeling extremely desperate, hysterical, outraged, or otherwise extremely upset, then it may help you to talk with a crisis counselor. Doing so can help you calm down enough to process what your next steps are, and how to help both yourself and the situation. It is not weak to need help, it shows that you are human and that you have limits to what you can take. Those limits help keep us healthy and safe. There are many avenues to finding a crisis counselor, and most hotlines are free. Typically, these hotlines are area-specific, so entering “crisis hotline in [your area]” into a search engine will help you find starting points. In the United States, you can call 1-800-422-4453 (1-800-4-A-CHILD), which is available 24/7 in 170 languages.
If you feel that you may hurt yourself or someone else, then click here, call the emergency or crisis number in your area, and tell them that you are afraid of hurting yourself or someone else and need help. They will be able to help you stay safe.
Take a deep breath, and realize that you can take this step-by-step, you do not have to try to take care of this all at once. While much of what I have to say is aimed at taking care of the child, you also must take care of yourself: That must come first.
There are a great many questions that people ask themselves before making a report of child sexual abuse to law enforcement. Should you call the police? Should you really trust this child’s statement, or what you saw? What if they are making it up? What if you were seeing things? This could ruin the person’s life; do I really want that? How could this happen with someone you knew and trusted? There are many questions, and it seems like there is no one there to help.
That is why this page exists. You need to know what your resources are, what the facts are about abuse, and how to respond to the child who just told you that someone violated a sexual boundary. The first thing you need to know is something that has been stated: It is very likely that they are telling you the truth. It is 92-96% likely that they are telling the truth. Believe the child, and let the child be the one to talk. Your job is to stay silent, to reassure them, and to listen. Do not ask questions, do not give advice, just listen to them.
Why is this important? Children can internalize all kinds of messages, and while sexual abuse is horrible and shocking to all of us, every victim will respond differently and be impacted differently. If you overreact to their revelation, you can make what they are already facing worse. They need time to process how they are feeling, and they need the space to do that processing. I realize that remaining stoic in the face of such a shocking statement is difficult, but you must realize that children often base their reactions on the examples of people around them.
Your first reaction may be to get all the information you can out of the child and ask questions. Please do not do this, for your child’s sake, certainly, but also for the sake of legal action against the perpetrator. Let the professionals interview your child. Some victims can relive the experience of the abuse if they are forced to tell the story repeatedly. How do you find these experts? Search online for a child advocacy center or sexual abuse prevention non-profit in your area, and they can help you make a report to law enforcement professionals and give you therapeutic resources to help. Many states have a Coalition Against Sexual Assault that can be of assistance.
Some law enforcement agencies work with specific non-profits in your area, in addition to child advocacy centers, and it may be helpful in some situations to report the abuse to law enforcement first so that they can help guide you. You can also call the police in your area and ask if there are specific non-profits they work with on sexual abuse cases. You may have to do some homework if you want to report abuse with the help of a non-profit or child advocacy center.
A child advocacy center will know where your child can be taken for an interview that can be used in court, depending on the location and applicable laws. Let them conduct the interview and walk you through making the report to law enforcement, and then ask for recommendations for a therapist that the child can talk to. You do not have to make any decisions about seeing a therapist now, but it will help you to have the option, that way their help is only a phone call or visit away. The best thing that you can do is observe the child and how they are doing. If they seem fine, they may not need to talk with a therapist about it. But if they seem stressed, you need to be able to help them on the child’s terms.
The next sections are about why reporting the abuse is a good idea for everyone involved (including the abuser), and why you need to search for certain experts that are specially trained to deal with these situations. While you may want to involve a lawyer, the bottom line is that reporting abuse to law enforcement is a good thing. This is just a longer explanation for why that is.
Reporting sexual abuse can help victims in a wide variety of ways. It gives victims the space to be honest and talk about what happened from their point of view. It allows them to let out whatever they need to, and be honest with themselves and others. It opens the door to healing. While victims who do not report can still heal, reporting can help healing happen faster when it is done right. Many victims of child sexual abuse blame themselves for the abuse. They may believe that what was done to them was a punishment for something they did. They may believe that because they physically enjoyed it, they have no right to complain about it, and are confused about what to think about it. Reporting and therapy can help them work through some of this confusion.
Getting professional help can make the victim more familiar with positive self-talk, so that they can correct the negative things they tell themselves about the abuse. Child advocacy centers in your area will be familiar with options for therapy.
This may seem counter-intuitive, but reporting sexual abuse helps abusers in a variety of ways. When an abuser goes through the legal system, they get to see firsthand the seriousness of what they have done to their victim, and they have access to resources and support systems to rectify their mistake and ensure it does not happen in the future. In some areas, those resources are not available unless a report is made to police because of mandatory reporting laws. While the legal system will alter their lives to some extent, most legal systems will look more favorably on an abuser who wants help and turns themselves in, than one who tried everything in their power to cover it up and get away with what they did.
There will be requirements in most jurisdictions on abusers that will assist them in re-entering society in a law-abiding manner. These requirements will usually include not having contact with children for some time, not having pornography, finding and maintaining gainful employment, and paying some restitution. These requirements may seem onerous to the abuser at first, but they are there to help the abuser, not hinder them. Requirements also typically involve seeking sex offender-specific treatment, which will typically involve an approach tailored specifically to help the individual needs of the abuser. You will want to thoroughly research the programs in your area to find one with a good reputation, or use the resource links in this section.
If your area does not have mandatory reporting laws, you may be able to see a psychologist who can help both the abuser and the victim without involving law enforcement. That depends on where you live, and you may wish to consult a lawyer prior to taking any action. However, it is the recommendation of this site that you report the abuse to law enforcement personnel.
There are a wide variety of resources available for both parents and children. Some of these resources are available in the form of professional counseling, some are self-help books, and still others are websites tailored for specific purposes. There are also many sexual abuse survivor sites and groups that may be helpful, as well as support groups. These resources are not appropriate for everyone.
These resources can vary by area, so it may be easier for you to search whatever particular resource from the above paragraph that appeal to you, alongside the area you live in. Child advocacy centers in your area will also have access to these resources, and can direct you accordingly. There are also several resource directories, such as Darkness to Light’s, which may be of assistance as well.