I was having my morning coffee while reading my local newspaper (Yes…I still subscribe to an actual printed newspaper) when a headline about a local police officer being charged with child molestation caught my eye. The man had been molesting this youth for six years. Six. Years. But the most heartbreaking sentence I read detailed how the boy had told his mother when the abuse first started and she didn’t believe him.
Before we go any further…NO JUDGEMENT here. This is NOT a shame and blame article. It is a ‘we could all learn something here’ article.
Mom dismissed her son’s disclosure because she thought it was a result of night terrors he was having. Fair enough. And, let’s remember how little child sexual abuse was talked about six years ago. Six years ago, do you think anyone would have read past the first sentence of this article? I can answer that for you. Nope.
This mom is not in an exclusive club. Remember Jerry Sandusky? One of his first victims told his guidance counselor. She didn’t believe the boy’s disclosure because of how upstanding and amazing and generous Coach Sandusky was. There are many more examples, but you get the idea. Lots of adults don’t believe children when they disclose abuse.
But, we should believe them.
It is estimated that only 4% – 8% of children’s disclosures of child sexual abuse are false claims. What we see far more of is children NOT disclosing their abuse (we’ll talk about this more in my next blog) …nearly 75% of child sexual abuse survivors never disclose or wait more than five years to disclose their abuse. And if a child does immediately disclose abuse, it is more likely to a friend rather than an adult.
So, we should believe them.
Aside from reporting the disclosure of abuse, believing the child is possibly the most important thing you can do. It is not our job to determine if the allegation is true or not, or if the action was abuse or not. Our job is to believe the child, assure them they have done nothing wrong, and report the allegation of abuse to your state’s department of child services or local law enforcement.
If a child ever discloses abuse to you, your first words are NOT, “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” They are NOT, “Are you sure?”
Your first words are, “I believe you.”