How Even Good Parents Miss the Signs of Child Sexual Abuse

Even good parents miss the signs of sexual abuse in their kids—but here’s how you can change that in your family.

How do good parents miss child sexual abuse?  It is simple.

By not asking the right questions.

One day my son went to a classmate’s home for a Halloween costume party.  When I picked him up a few hours later I could tell by the ear to ear grin on his face that he had a great time. As we were about to leave, I was standing at the door with his little friend’s father and grandmother.

Both adults were giving me a great report about my son’s behavior.  I was a relieved parent. Thank goodness.  No issues. No worries.

I quickly scooted my happy kid in the car and drove home.

But as I drove us home I felt uneasy.  Something was off.

Then it hit me.  I swerved into the next parking lot.  No signal.  I got a well-deserved honk from the driver behind me.

But I was distracted. I had been here before.  Except I was the child then.

boy teddy

Back in the day
I could recall that when I was a little girl being abused by a teen relative my mother would innocently ask me a few questions as we left a relative’s home.

“Did you behave?”  “Did you listen?”  “Were you a good girl?”

1.  What mom didn’t know is that the teen who was living there had threatened me before she had even arrived.   Sometimes he’d even be standing behind her balling up his fists or giving me mean looks.

2.  Asking me those questions, especially in front of a person who was using me for sexual experimentation reinforced in my young mind that I was supposed to do whatever I was told by the person who was watching me while she was gone.

3.  Because I had said, “yes” at the door I didn’t think that I could change my answer later.  To do so would mean that I would have to explain why I “lied” when she asked me earlier.

When parents ask children whether or not they were good in front of children and adults most children feel pressured to say yes.

So in that parking lot I turned around and looked at my son in his eyes.  I started all over again.  I asked the correct questions.

Perhaps you may want to consider asking these questions the next time that your child is in someone else’s care.

I asked my son privately whether or not he enjoyed himself.

 How did you spend your time?  

What was your favorite part of the party?

What was the least favorite part?

Did you feel safe?  

Was there anything else that you wanted to share?

Try to remember to make these questions a consistent habit.  It might be helpful to  remind your children that they can always add details about what occurred while they were away from you.

My mistake that day was a common one for parents.  We think that as long as we ask any question we are on top of things.

The truth is, parents must always question, at the right time, under the right circumstances.

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This post originally appeared at We Survive Abuse.

For more resources and free downloads for parents to help fight and recognize sexual abuse, check out the free resources page at We Survive Abuse. Arm yourselves with knowledge, moms and dads!

Tonya GJ Prince
With over 22 years of service, Tonya GJ Prince is an expert in both domestic and sexual violence. Her specific service emphasis has been dedicated to, crisis counseling, education, centering the voices of victims and cross cultural empathy and understanding. Tonya is an author, activist, advocate, Survivor, speaker, counselor, & mentor. You can follow Tonya at her website, We Survive Abuse.

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