As a parent it can be extremely difficult and overwhelming to hear that your son or daughter has been sexually assaulted. It can be hard to know how to act or what to say. The most important thing you can do is help your son or daughter feel safe and supported.
Everyone responds differently to sexual assault. Frequent responses include feelings of fear, distress, humiliation, anger, confusion, numbness and guilt. It is important that your son or daughter be allowed to experience and process these feelings without the fear of having them invalidated or dismissed.
How to Help as a Parent:
- Believe your son or daughter when they confide in you. Don’t pressure them to talk. It is better to go slowly and let them set the pace. Listen and help them process through their feelings. Validate their anger, pain and fear. These are natural responses that need to be felt, expressed and heard. It is okay to tell your son or daughter that this is a difficult topic for you to talk about. Let them know that you are open to talk about anything, even if it is uncomfortable.
- Do not blame your son or daughter, or yourself. Avoid asking “why” questions as much as possible because these often imply blame. Focus on his or her needs. If they didn’t tell you immediately about the assault, listen to their reasons. It is very common for survivors to wait before sharing with people they love. Reassure them that they have your love and support.
- Take the necessary steps to protect and ensure your son or daughter’s safety. Encourage them to seek medical attention or alternative housing if necessary. Understand that your son or daughter has the right to decide what steps are necessary to take. It’s important that your son or daughter regain a sense of control. Sexual assault is a crime that takes away an individual’s power. It can make them feel invaded, changed and out of control. It is crucial for survivors to be able to make their own decisions in order to regain power over their own lives.
- Discuss with your son or daughter their options and ask them what they want to do next. This may or may not include contacting a counselor, advocate, judicial officer and/or the police. Reporting a sexual assault crime can be a very difficult, long and painful process for survivors. It is not an appropriate option for everyone, but a trained advocate can help you both navigate through their options.
- Make sure your son or daughter gets the professional care and support they may need. Counseling can be very helpful in assisting your son or daughter through the healing process of coping with the sexual assault. Remember that every person’s healing process is unique.
- Recognize your son or daughter’s need for privacy. Their boundaries have been violated and reclaiming personal space is important. Respect the time and space it takes to heal after a sexual assault.
- Take care of yourself. Educate yourself about sexual assault and the healing process. Realize when you’ve reached your own limitations. Find a supportive person or counselor with whom you can share your strong feelings with so that your conversations with your son or daughter can focus on their needs.
- Seek immediate professional help if your son or daughter displays any suicidal behaviors or if you are worried about their emotional or physical well-being.