“Darkness to Light” is a new initiative designed to teach parents and grandparents how to protect children from child sexual abuse. It was developed in Charleston, SC and the Tennessee Chapter of Children’s Advocacy Centers has adopted it and every Child Advocacy Center across the state is implementing it in their local communities. The Child Advocacy Center is spearheading the efforts in Rutherford and Cannon Counties.
Step 5 of the training is to make a plan. Parents, grandparents, and professionals need to learn where to go, whom to call, and how to react if a child discloses to them that someone has sexually abused them.
“Children disclose child sexual abuse to the person in their life they trust the most,” said Sharon De Boer, Child Advocacy Center executive director. “For many children that is their parent, grandparent, relative, favorite teacher, coach, guidance counselor, therapist, pastor, youth pastor, Sunday school teacher, or their best friend. It is important for us as adults to be prepared when a vulnerable child reaches out to us for help. The best way to be prepared is to develop a plan.”
According to the “Darkness to Light” Stewards of Children Interactive Workbook, when a child first discloses abuse to you it is important not to overreact. When you react to a child’s disclosure with anger or disbelief, the child is likely to:
- Feel even more ashamed and guilty.
- Shut down.
- Change or retract the story, when, in fact, abuse is actually occurring
- Change the story to match your questions so future disclosures appear to be “coached.” This creates problems if the case goes to court.
“The child has taken a huge risk when they disclose sexual abuse to you,” De Boer stated. “Much of the pain for children is dealing with the abuse by themselves. Offer support, tell the child you believe them, it is your job to protect them, and one of the ways that you protect them is by reporting the abuse and getting help.”
Ryan Wallace, Child Advocacy Center community education coordinator said, “When a child reports sexual abuse, one of the hardest things for parents, grandparents, and professionals is knowing what to say to them.”
The “Darkness to Light” workbook outlines simple responses that adults can give children that are supportive of the child:
- Listen calmly and openly.
- Don’t fill in the gaps, or rush to “get to the bottom of it.”
- Allow silence in the conversation so that the child can take his or her time.
- Don’t ask leading questions about the details. Questions can come across as judgmental and can confuse the child’s memory of events.
- Ask only open-ended questions like, “What happened next?” or “It’s okay to tell me more. You can tell me whatever you want.”
- Say, “I believe you.”
- Say, “What happened is not your fault.”
- Say, “I am the adult and it’s my job to protect you.”
- Tell the child, “This takes a lot of courage. I am very proud of you for telling me.”
- Tell the child, “We will get the support that we need to get through this.”
- Don’t promise that the information will be kept confidential.
- Seek the help of a professional who is trained to talk with the child about sexual abuse. Let a professional collect the details from the child. Professional guidance is critical in the child’s healing and to any criminal prosecution.
- Don’t make promises about the future.
De Boer concluded, “Children have mixed feelings about the offender because this person is often someone they know and love. As a result, it is important not to show your anger toward the offender to the child. When you express anger is may make the child feel like you are angry at them too. If you express that what the offender did made you angry or disgusted, the child may feel judged and like, ‘I must be terrible or disgusting too.’ Showing your anger may make the child feel like they have to defend or protect the person who harmed them. The most important thing you can do is to stay calm and not express your feelings to the child. You can talk to another adult privately to get support for your feelings.”
To learn more about how to develop a plan of action if a child discloses child sexual abuse to you, attend one of the Darkness to Light trainings in Rutherford or Cannon Counties. To find training near you, contact Ryan Wallace at the Child Advocacy Center of Rutherford County (615) 867-9000 or Amanda Pruitt at the Cannon County Child Advocacy Center (615) 563-9915.