Reporting Child Sexual Abuse

What if your child, God forbid, is a victim of a sexual assault? I asked a friend of mine for advice on what a parent should do. His name is James Wethington, and he is a detective. I posted this last year but it is such a great article I am re-posting it.

Detective Wethington has excellent advice that might help a child out there, keep reading:

Experts can write books and give seminars on how to raise children, but reading a book can only prepare us so much when it comes to raising a child. Keeping that in mind, this article is offered as a guideline to parents dealing with the dilemma of a pending child molestation investigation. Nothing can prepare a parent or a child for the everything that goes along with this event. However, maybe if you know what to expect, it will help you deal with the stress. I've put together some information below from my perspective as an investigator. I use the pronoun she, but of course, boys are often victims as well.

DISCLOSURE: This term refers to a child’s initial report that someone has touched her inappropriately.
There are two types of disclosures in a child sexual assault. The first is an accidental disclosure which occurs when the child does not disclose information on purpose but when she accidently says something to or near an attentive adult who recognizes a problem with the child’s statement. This normally occurs with young children under the age of 10. For example, a grandmother might overhear her grandchild telling a playmate to “kiss it where Bobby kisses it. “ The grandmother knows Bobby is the adult neighbor, inquires further, and discovers that Bobby has been touching her grandchild inappropriately.
The second type of disclosure is purposeful which occurs when the child intentionally discloses to an adult in order to bring the matter into the open. The same grandchild goes to her grandmother and reports that Bobby the neighbor has been touching her in her privates, and she doesn't like it.

WHAT TO DO: Once the child discloses an incident, the natural reaction of any parent is to be upset. No amount of research and preparedness can prevent that. However, it is important to gather yourself as soon as possible to set a calm tone for the child. Even the most nonobservant child can tell when his or her parent is upset. The child’s reaction will be to please that parent in order to make her feel better. This is a wonderful characteristic to have in your child, but this "pleaser" attitude can have a negative effect on the pending investigation.
Another natural reaction to the child’s initial disclosure will be to ask a lot of questions and get all the details. Again, your research cannot prevent that parental instinct. But it is important not to ask too many questions and not to jump to conclusions or to put words into the child’s mouth. The younger the child, the more she will get confused by your questioning. Combine your questions with your anxiety and the message you send to your child can become distorted. Try not to go overboard, and try to stay calm. Trained professionals will get the necessary information as the investigation moves forward. As hard as it will be at this point for all concerned parties, patience becomes a key virtue. The role of the parent is to be calm, supportive and patient. Remember, the child is the victim. He or she needs a drama-free environment that remains normal in order to succeed in recovery.

REPORTING: Once the child discloses an incident, the best thing to do is contact your local police department and report the matter. Depending on where you live, the investigation may initially be conducted by Family Services and then passed to law enforcement. If that is the policy in your jurisdiction, the police can still be in a position to direct the matter and be involved at the onset.
The parent should also call the National Child Abuse Hotline regardless of the fact that police are mandated reporters. The number is 1-800-4-A-CHILD. While you make the reports, stay calm and be patient. Most importantly, listen, pay attention, and if necessary, takes notes. Parents may want the child to only speak with a female officer. In reality, departments may not have a female officer available or the female you see on staff may not be properly trained for such cases. The thought is understandable, but it may not be achievable. It is best to simply ask for the officer or detective that investigates child abuse cases. That person is well-trained to handle these situations.

CHILD INTERVIEWS: If everything goes correctly, the first police interview of the child will be a brief one to establish that some inappropriate touching has occurred. The person conducting the cursory interview will then arrange for a full, detailed interview with a forensic interviewer with the local Child Advocacy Center.
It is at the Child Advocacy Center that the child will hopefully be able to give a more detailed, full disclosure. The idea of this forensic interview is to gather facts from the child in his or her own words without suggestion. Because of this approach, sometimes a child will not make a disclosure. Lack of a disclosure does not mean the child is lying or that the investigation is over. However, it does make the investigation much more difficult.
The reason for the forensic interview is to prevent the child from talking about the touching to numerous people over and over again, in numerous different settings. One interview, one setting is a wonderful concept we can all appreciate.

FOLLOWING STEPS: After the forensic interview, parents should be briefed by the multidiscipline team about the roles they will be playing in the case going forward.
Forensic Interviewer: The interviewer will brief the parent about details of the child interview. The parents will decide how many details the interviewer provides.
Social Worker Case Investigator: The case worker’s main concern is the child’s safety. Who has care, custody and control of the child? Does the perpetrator have access to the victim? Is the guardian denying the perpetrator access to the victim? He or she will also focus on other common concerns such as diet, utilities and truancy.
Child Victim Advocate: The advocate will provide counseling services, arrange medical exams and makes other resources available.
Detective: The detective has the largest burden for justice because it is his or her duty to gather all the facts and corroborate the victim’s allegations. He or she will attempt to locate strong evidence and rely heavily on interviews of witnesses and the suspect. The findings will then be given to the prosecutor who decides whether charges will be filed.
Prosecutor: The role of the prosecutor is to evaluate the evidence gathered during the investigation and determine if it is enough to substantiate charges being filed within their jurisdiction. The general rule of thumb is what can be proven in a court of law and not whether or not he or she believes the assault happened. The prosecutor’s role is difficult because of the burden of proof they must establish with of a jury.

CONCERNS OF PARENTS: Throughout the process, a parent will often feel that nothing is moving quickly enough and that none of your concerns or questions are being answered. Hopefully, the investigators and advocates can answer questions for you as they come up. It is completely acceptable as the victim’s parent to call and ask questions. Calling everyday will not gain any new information but timely calls are more than appropriate. When parents place a call and address a concern, it is important to not take frustration out on the staff member. Remain calm and polite but assertive. All parties involved want to help. So, to get answers, remain calm and polite but assertive.

FAMILY AND FRIENDS: In a situation such as this, many friends and family will want to help and be there for the parents and the victim. Support is wonderful and parents are fortunate to have a support system in place. However, it is important that they know their role is not to talk to the child about the assault or case facts. They can be the most supportive by maintaining a positive presence.
A victim may not want many people to know what has happened if they are older. A younger victim may become confused by the extra attention and exploit it leading them to a “pleaser” state that causes a dangerous gray area for the investigation.
Older victims who understand the situation should always choose who finds out about their sexual assault. Consult older victims about who gets informed about the incident. Not doing so can cause the victim to resent the person who told her secret. This type of anger between family and friends is very avoidable.

CONCLUSION: This article can’t answer the questions each case will raise because circumstances will always be different. Its purpose is to loosely prepare parents with what to expect. Remember to be supportive, ask a limited amount of questions from the child and report the disclosure to the police.


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About Stacey Lannert

Stacey is free. In January 2009, Missouri Governor Matt Blunt commuted her sentence of life without parole. She is currently speaking out about sexual abuse and sharing her message of love, healing and forgiveness.