Four ways to help child-survivors of sexual abuse in Maryland

Childhood sexual abuse is a traumatic experience with lasting effects, but there are things parents can do to help their kids cope.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, there were 62,939 reported cases of sexual abuse across the country in 2012 alone. As a result of such maltreatment, children in Maryland and elsewhere may experience a range of effects, including post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental conditions, some of which may be lasting. Although dealing with the effects of sexual abuse in their childhood may be a lifelong challenge for survivors, there are things their parents can do that may help them to better cope.

Keep fears and reactions in check

For many parents, learning their children have been sexually abused at the hands of a trusted friend, loved one or stranger may be among the most upsetting news they can receive. However, if they are overwhelmed by their own emotions, they may not be able to provide their kids with the support and love they need. Therefore, child sexual abuse survivors may be best served if their parents or primary caregivers respond in helpful, supportive ways. People should do their best to avoid developing extreme fears relating to the abuse, which may be projected onto their children. Further, they should do their best not to show their anger as their kids may misinterpret it as being directed at them.

Do not downplay the abuse

While children who suffer sexual abuse are not benefited by their parents overreacting, downplaying the abuse may be just as damaging. People may believe they are staying calm or controlling their reactions, but saying things such as, "It was not so bad," or "It was not a big deal, you will get over it," may minimalize what children are feeling. Worse, downplaying the sexual abuse may give children the wrong impression about the appropriateness of the behavior.

Encourage communication

For some children, discussing what happened or their feelings may help them work through such traumatic experiences. As they feel ready and willing, parents should encourage their kids to communicate their questions, worries and fears. It is important, however, that people do not push their children to talk about the sexual abuse.

Offer reassurance

Whether by nature or because the perpetrator told them so, it is common for child-survivors of sexual abuse to feel they were to blame for the inappropriate behavior. After they are made aware, parents should offer their children frequent reassurances. They should make certain their kids know they did nothing wrong, they did not do anything to deserve what happened to them, they are now safe and that the hurt will not be permanent.

Obtaining legal counsel

Dealing with the aftermath of childhood sexual abuse may be a lasting challenge for people throughout Maryland and the rest of the U.S. They may require ongoing medical treatment for injuries or other resulting ailments, as well as suffer from conditions that affect their ability to obtain gainful employment as adults. Under some circumstances, the abuser and the facility or organization that allowed the maltreatment to occur may be held liable. Therefore, people whose children have been sexually abused may benefit from discussing their situations and rights with an attorney.