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Responding to a parent when abuse is suspected

When the child has not given a detailed account of sexual abuse but we suspect it is occurring, partner with the parent to help them understand the worries. The following suggestions can support parents to support their child:

  • Be upfront and honest with parents and acknowledge their challenges. “It is hard for parents to believe their child has been sexually abused even when their child has told them all about the abuse. It must be very difficult for you to think that this might be happening without any concrete evidence.”
  • Look for moments of belief. “Are there any worries we have spoken about today that you feel might be true? What makes you think they might be true? We know that most children do not lie.”
  • Provide clear factual information about why you suspect sexual abuse. For example, police records; information about age expected versus concerning sexual behaviour in children (refer to the Developmental and Harmful Sexual Behaviour Continuum at a Glance resource); children’s drawings / stories; children’s words where they have partially disclosed. “Things like this don’t happen in most families and it makes us very worried about [child]. Why do you think this might be happening?”
  • Find the common ground. “I can’t imagine how hard it must be to hear about my concerns. We might not ever completely agree on the concerns I have shared. I really want to concentrate today on the things we agree on. We both want the childr/ren to feel safe at home and we both want to be sure that they are not being sexually abused.”

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