Discovering your child has been abused is living nightmare for parents/caregivers. Shock, guilt, fear and helplessness are all natural emotions. When a child is abused, an entire family is effected.
One of the things parents find can make things even more difficult is navigating the investigative legal procedures that then follow on the long road to justice and healing. Some parents can feel at times as though the system protects abusers rather than victims.
If you are struggling to be heard and supported in protecting your child, these 8 steps will help make things as easy as possible.
1) Get out. If you or your children are experiencing any kind of abuse within the home, you must get out safely. In some situations this can seem impossible, but staying in an abusive situation puts you and your children in danger. Seek help from trusted sources, friends, family, charities/refuges. Do not confront the abuser. Leave as safely as possible, preferably when your abuser is out if possible, staying as calm and as reassuring as possible for the children, who are likely to be confused and scared. In an emergency, call the police (999/911)
2) Report abuse or suspected abuse to the police and social services/CPS (go here for help and reporting contacts). Also, if possible seek advice and support from child protection charities, such as the NSPCC (UK) or Childhelp (USA), both of which have free helplines where you can get help from trained professionals. Report every instance of abuse, for example, if you have already reported injuries to a child and at a later date witness fresh injuries, report again. Do not be made to feel as though you are a hindrance if you are genuinely concerned for a child’s well-being you are absolutely doing the right thing by refusing to ignore it.
3) Seek medical advice/evaluation. If you believe your child has been abused, seeking medical attention (physical/psychological) is essential for helping your child recover as effectively and as quickly as possible. Not only this, but expert opinion on what has happened to your child will be helpful for any investigation and may strengthen your case, enabling you to protect your child.
4)Document everything. If you suspect/witness abuse, keep a log of exactly what happened, be specific ( for example, instead of reporting that a child was not dressed properly, report that she was wearing only a T-shirt outside in freezing temperatures). Take photos of injuries. Keep ALL relevant physical evidence: if your child drew a sexually explicit picture of them and an abuser leading you to suspect abuse, SAVE the document and give it to the police. Save underwear in a ziplock bag in cases of suspected sexual abuse. If clothes/underwear is blood-stained, do not wash it, give it to the police. Make notes of times, places, what happened, witnesses etc. Also log when you reported the information and who to. This information could be extremely useful in any investigation and you are likely to need it later. Get and keep safe copies of all documents (medical reports, police reports, school reports etc) that relate to the case. Make sure the police/CPS have all relevant evidence/information – do not assume that CPS or someone else will do this or that they will communicate with each other. Make sure police/CPS are aware of ALL people with access to the child (eg ex-partners new partner).
5) Get legal advice and representation as soon as possible. Begin court proceedings for full custodial rights and to remove the parental rights of the abuser.
6)Co-operate fully with the police, social services/CPS. Attend every appointment (if this is not possible, call and re-arrange) and comply with requests from CPS that are designed to protect the child (for example if it is a stipulation that your child does not have unsupervised visits with a person, stick to it, if you are required to take a drug test, take it).
7) Request periodic updates and chase these up if necessary.
8) Try to stay calm. If you suspect your child has been abused, no doubt it will be very hard for you to control your emotions, but you must keep in mind your child at all times. You child needs you to be calm and strong so that they can feel safe and secure. As much as you can, save breaking down for times when you are away from your child and preferably with a friend, family member, counselor or other source of support. Try to find constructive ways to express your anger that wont cause further heartache for yourself and your child. As much as you may crave it, vigilante justice will only hurt your baby further.
Building A Body Of Evidence
To prepare for your case you should try to create a chronological account of all of the things that have occurred that might be evidence of abuse to give to your lawyer, backed up as much as possible by the documents you have collected.
This history should include anything that might be relevant to the abuse, such as:
- Medical reports, photos of injuries
- Violent/aggressive ‘acting out’
- Psychological reports
- Relevant reports from school/other individuals/organizations involved with the child
- Sexual ‘acting out’
- Use of a toy or object in a sexual manner
- Repeated irritation around genitals
- Disclosure (child telling you or someone else about the abuse)
- STI’s, yeast infections, urinary tract infections
- Dates of visits or time spent alone, including at night, with the alleged abuser
- Complaints of pain urinating or using bathroom
- Self-mutilation (cutting, hair pulling etc.)
- Discharge in underwear
- Blood or tears around vagina or anus
- Night terrors
- Talking about or doing things that demonstrate knowledge of sex that is not appropriate for age.
- Grooming behavior in abuser
Make sure you include relevant information such as:
- List of all people who have access to the child (possible abusers)
- List of all witnesses who might have heard or have seen any abuse or the child saying or doing something unusual, and all caretakers, with their names, addresses and telephone numbers
- Make chronological history of any abuse of child, siblings, or yourself from abuser.
- Write about abuser’’s history, including any history of being abused, of any other people in his family who were abused or abusers, any criminal record, history of alcohol or drug abuse, names and addresses of former partners, wives/husbands.
- Use of child pornography by the abuser.
READ ABOUT THE EXPERIENCE OF PARENTS CONTACTING THE NSPCC (AS SEEN IN THESE PICTURES) HERE