Try to stay calm
Receiving a disclosure or supporting a child or youth who has been sexually abused can bring up strong emotions, however it is best to process these emotions with other adults. Expressing these emotions in front of the child can cause them to feel as if they have done something wrong in disclosing.
If you do express how you are feeling in front of the child, make sure to explain that you are upset at what has happened to them, but that you are happy that they have come to you for help. Ensure that the child knows that they have done the right thing in telling someone what has happened.
Tell the child you believe them
Children are often very afraid that they will not be believed when they disclose experiences of abuse. By showing the child that you believe they are telling the truth, you can help them to feel safe and more comfortable seeking help.
The following statements can often have a positive impact on someone when they reach out for help:
Tell them it's not their fault
Reassure the child that they didn’t do anything wrong, and it’s not their fault. This can help to reduce feelings of guilt and self-blame. Whether child sexual abuse or youth/ teen sexual assault between peers, the only person who did something wrong was the person who used abusive behaviour.
Be mindful when asking questions
When responding to a disclosure from a child, only ask questions when they are needed to make a report of child sexual abuse, or to better support the child.
When a question needs to be asked, avoid leading questions. Instead, ask questions that are open-ended. The following is an example of an open-ended question:
Validate their feelings
Tell the child that however they are feeling is okay. There is no one way, and no wrong way, to be feeling following an experience of abuse.
Ask permission before giving physical support
It is important not to assume that physical affection – like hugs – will be helpful to the child. Instead, it should be up to the child to decide if physical support is something they would like. This also helps to reinforce their ability to decide what happens to their body
Avoid making promises
Assure the child that you will help, but avoid making promises you can’t keep.
In Alberta, all adults (18+) have the legal responsibility to report suspected child abuse of any kind; you do not need a disclosure to report. Call the Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-387-KIDS (5437); reports can be made anonymously.
Practice self care
Hearing a disclosure can be very upsetting, and for some it can be a trigger to remember their own experiences of abuse. It is important to take care of yourself when you are supporting a child or youth who has experienced sexual violence.