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What to Do if You Suspect that Your Child is a Victim of Sexual Abuse

As a parent, it’s likely that one of your worst fears is that your child will be the victim of abuse by either a stranger or someone that he or she knows and trusts—particularly if that abuse is sexual in nature. Unfortunately, the sexual abuse of children is far too common, with an estimated one in five girls and one in twenty boys becoming a victim before the age of 18.

If you notice signs that lead you to believe your own child is being sexually abused, you will probably experience a range of devastating emotions, from shock and confusion to anger and feelings of helplessness. As you navigate this emotional storm, here are a few important steps to take in order to help create better outcomes for your child and your family:

  1. Recognize the signs of abuse. Children who have been sexually abused may exhibit a wide variety of signs and symptoms, and it might not be immediately evident that these signs are linked to sexual abuse. For example, victims may experience emotional effects such as feelings of depression, grief, guilt, shame, anxiety, or even numbness; behavioral changes, such as acting out, withdrawing from friends and family, regressive behaviors, or age-inappropriate sexual tendencies; and physical signs, including unexplained injuries and changes in eating or sleeping patterns. In addition, be aware that most children do not report sexual abuse immediately after it happens, so watch for signs that your child may be trying to disclose something they seem hesitant to talk about.
  2. Create a safe space for your child to talk. Your child may feel ashamed or even afraid when talking about what has happened to them, so it’s important to approach the conversation in a non-threatening way. For instance, pick a private space where your child feels comfortable, and try to take a more casual tone that will encourage them to open up. Be mindful of your own emotions; while it is natural to feel angry at the perpetrator, allowing your anger to show may cause your child to misinterpret that it is directed at them. Ensure that your child knows they are not in trouble, and you are only asking questions out of love and concern.
  3. Seek the help of a trained counselor or therapist. While you may be the one to start the conversation about your child’s abuse, a neutral, experienced, objective professional will generally be in a better position to encourage your child to disclose important information and help them begin the long journey of healing.
  4. Report the abuse to the proper authorities. Reporting suspected sexual abuse of your child can be a scary, emotionally draining step, but it is crucial for protecting your child and others. In Florida, the proper agency for reporting abuse is the Department of Children and Families, which may be reached via the statewide hotline (1-800-962-2873) or the DCF website at http://reportabuse.dcf.state.fl.us. You should also contact the law enforcement agency in the area where the incident(s) took place.
  5. Consult an experienced trauma-informed attorney. As the investigation into your child’s sexual abuse—and subsequently, a possible criminal case against the perpetrator—unfolds, understanding the complex legal landscape can add to an already stressful situation. Working with an attorney who is experienced in the highly sensitive field of child sexual abuse can help guide you through this process while representing your family’s best interests. You want a trauma-informed attorney who understands the sensitive nature of working with survivors of sexual abuse.

At Leighton Law, we have over 35 years of experience representing victims of child sexual abuse, and our attorneys are particularly sensitive to the legal, emotional, and psychological challenges involved. As one of the leading sexual abuse attorneys in the country, managing partner John Leighton is frequently consulted to help litigate these types of cases in Florida and many other states. He is the President of the National Crime Victim Bar Association, Chairman of the American Association for Justice Inadequate Security Litigation Group, and author of the 2-volume textbook, Litigating Premises Security Cases.  We have won some of the largest verdicts and settlements in these kinds of cases, including a recent verdict of $49 million for a child sexual assault survivor. To find out more about how we can help, call us at 888.988.1774

Article by:

John Leighton

A nationally-recognized trial lawyer who handles catastrophic injury and death cases. He manages Leighton Law, P.A. trial lawyers, with offices in Miami and Orlando, Florida. He is President of The National Crime Victim Bar Association, author of the 2-volume textbook,Litigating Premises Security Cases, and past Chairman of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America’s Motor Vehicle, Highway & Premises Liability Section. Having won some of the largest verdicts in Florida history, Mr. Leighton is listed inThe Best Lawyers in America (14 years), “Top Lawyers” in the South Florida Legal Guide (15 years), Top 100 Florida SuperLawyer™ and Florida SuperLawyers (14 years), “Orlando Legal Elite” by Orlando Style magazine, and FloridaTrend magazine “Florida Legal Elite

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