Q: I have real concerns about my daughter’s friend. She has slept over a number of times and each time, there are new bruises in different spots.She hasn’t shared anything with me or my daughter, but we’re both anxious about this girl’s situation.What do I do next?
A: It’s good that you’re asking the question and getting involved. It isn’t always easy to consider that a child is being abused. Most of the time, we want to assume the best of a situation and also avoid getting involved in other people’s business. But we know that children are abused, and that the majority of abuse happens in children’s homes by the people who are supposed to care for them – their parents or primary caregivers.
We also know that children who are abused are often instructed not to tell anyone, and that abuse leads to confusion for children. Of course, it’s not up to children to keep themselves safe, but rather, the adults in the community.
I would encourage you and your daughter to have a conversation with the friend so you can express your concerns.This will be a difficult conversation, so referring to a book or a recent movie or TV episode about abuse may be helpful to get things going. The main purpose of the conversation would be to relay two things to the girl: you are a safe adult she can trust; and you would take action to protect her.
If a child does disclose abuse to you, it is important that you reassure the child that the abuse is not her fault and that, as an adult, you will do what you can to protect her. You cannot promise her that you won’t tell anyone else or that she can stay with you – these things may not be possible. You should remain as calm as possible. If a child has the courage to tell someone about abuse, having the adult become visibly upset or overly emotional will not help the situation. In fact, it may make the child feel even worse and that she has made a bigger mess of things by upsetting you.
It is also important to take some type of action if a child discloses. If you believe the child is in imminent danger, you need to call your local police and Child Protection Services immediately. You can report a suspected case of child abuse 24 hours a day at 1-800-552-7096. You can report anonymously.
If you have concerns or knowledge that a child is, or has been abused by a caregiver, you should make this call. Is there a chance that the child will reveal later that the story was fabricated? Experts in this field know that the majority of children do not make up abuse. They do know, however, that children may recant their story. This could be for several reasons.The child may become scared about what will happen, or that she may be taken from her family. The child may have been threatened and/or instructed to recant.It is important to act on the information the child shared and to trust your own instincts. There are no easy answers regarding abuse. But it is necessary to become involved to protect children.
Finally, follow up with your own child and check in about how this has affected her. Listen attentively to her concerns and worries. Reassure her that the adults are involved and will help her friend.