“Dear Dr. Eve,
I have recently found out that my daughter was sexually abused by her paternal grandfather. I can honestly say that I did not know this was happening. My daughter, who is now 27 years old, has always had difficulty with relationships. After her most recent breakup, she told me about the abuse after I nagged her to tell me what is really bothering her in her life.
I feel so angry at her grandfather for harming my child, and I have to admit, angry at my child for not telling me sooner. I feel so very guilty that I did not see this happening and could not protect my child. And guilty that I was so kind to my father-in-law. He passed on many years ago.
Please tell me what to do. How will this impact my child? And how to go forward now.
Dr. Eve Answers:
I appreciate you reaching out. It is a positive sign that you accept and acknowledge your daughter’s story.
It might be a story that has shattered your life and no doubt it has. Nevertheless, by reaching out to me, you are doing an important step in your daughter’s recovery: acknowledging that you believe her.
Children seldom use language to tell their parents /caregivers that they are being abused. They are afraid that the perpetrator may harm them or their families (the perpetrator may even say this directly to the child), and paradoxically, they fear that the perpetrator may reject them. A child is covered in guilt and shame as he/she feels responsible for the abuse and knows that by directly telling a parent /teacher/religious leader/friend, the whole family dynamic will be unsettled. What a terrible added burden for a child to carry.
So sadly you missed the signs your daughter was showing at the time. For other parents I offer a brief note of SIGNS of SEXUAL ABUSE IN CHILDREN:
- Nightmares or other sleep problems
- Withdrawn or very clingy
- Suddenly seems very insecure
- Regresses to bedwetting or loss of fecal control
- Unaccountable fear of particular places or people
- Outbursts of anger
- Changes in eating habits
- Physical signs of soreness or bruising, infections, in genital /anal area
- Becoming secretive
- Having unexplained gifts – toys, money, sweets, mobile phone, clothes
- Pain, discoloration, bleeding, or discharges in genitals, anus, or mouth
- Pain during urination and /or bowel movements
- Acting out sexually
- Acting out at school
For PARENTS WHO SUSPECT ABUSE , here is a guide for you:
- Respond with care and urgency
- Believe the child
- Be supportive
- Stay calm when talking about the abuse – do not get angry nor upset
- Be caring . . let your child know you love her/him/they
- Face the problem – no avoiding this traumatic experience
- Re -establish safety .. do whatever is necessary to protect your child from further harm
- Get professional support for yourself as a parent
Despina, your best gift to give your child right now is to establish your own emotional regulation. Seek professional help to manage your feelings so when you are with your child, you are fully present with her. No questions asked, no prodding for information. Get her into therapy and best be guided by your child in terms of what she needs right now.