Five Things You Shouldn’t Say After a Report of Sexual Abuse

176382627Ever since this thing happened in our community earlier this week, I’ve heard all kinds of comments. Well-meaning people end up saying really hurtful, harmful things. Things they would never say in the presence of someone who has experienced abuse or to the parent of the victim.

But abuse victims, and those directly affected by it, are everywhere. Since posting my last blog post, I’ve received numerous messages and emails from friends who experienced abuse as children. I had no idea.

I’m so sorry.

Here are five things we need to stop saying when it comes to sexual abuse:

1) “I always had a bad feeling about the abuser.” Yet armed with this amazing insight and miraculous prescience you did what? Oh. That’s right. NOTHING. Hindsight is 20/20 folks, and if you had a feeling the perpetrator was the kind of person who could abuse a child, and you said nothing, that’s not a mark of your discernment. That’s a lack of judgment.

(Disclaimer: you may say “I always had a bad feeling about that guy” if you are weeping because you didn’t express your concerns earlier. You may also say this if you actually reported your feelings to the appropriate authorities.)

2) “This is just a reminder to parents that we have to be constantly vigilant.” Say this to your spouse, if you want. Or to yourself in the mirror. But for the love of God, don’t say this publicly or post it on your Facebook page because THE CHILDREN OF COMPLETELY VIGILANT PARENTS CAN STILL BE ABUSED, and when you say things like this you make the parents of abused children feel even worse than they already do.

3) “I’m so glad that I did (such and such) in this particular case because it probably saved my children from being abused.” Same reply as number one. What you’re really doing here is patting yourself on the back for…saving yourself.

4) Another life destroyed. Not true. Yes, the effects of abuse are terrible. Yes, there are consequences all around. But to say that their life is destroyed? To say (as I’ve heard some say) that this is, “in some ways more difficult than death”? Get good counseling, not just for the individual but for the family. Talk about what happened. Come together as a community. But please don’t write this life off as destroyed.

5) I would kill someone if I found out they were abusing my child. This is such a common sentiment, and it’s one that I understand. I’m not arguing with your right to vigilante justice, but I will say this: be careful about who hears you making such rash vows. There was a case in Florida where a little boy kept an abusive relationship secret because his father often said “If anyone ever abuses you, I’ll kill them.” The little boy believed his father, didn’t want his father to go to jail, so he didn’t speak up. Think about the consequences of what you’re saying.

I understand why we say these things. I’ve said a number of them in the past…because I was trying to rationalize why this wasn’t going to happen to my family. I had a certain number of rules in place, and if I followed those rules then I could keep my children out of harm’s way.

Abusers don’t follow the rules. Sometimes children from really great families, with completely vigilant parents, end up in abusive situations.

If you truly want to help, if you want to do more harm than good, then there’s one rule in situations like these that, if you follow, you’ll never go wrong.

That rule?

Think before you speak. Would you say what you’re about to say to the agonized face of a parent who just found out their child had been abused? If the answer is no, the way forward is simple.

Stop talking.

22 Replies to “Five Things You Shouldn’t Say After a Report of Sexual Abuse”

  1. We had a situations where a young couple were tortured and murdered a few years ago. It’s easy to say all of the things that were said and what you posted. The harder thing is to just shut up and seek the Lord’s wisdom in these situations.

  2. Love this post. Often people don’t know what to say, and so fall back on words that seem to fit the situation. More than any words, I encourage people to pray. Pray for the victim, their family and the abuser. Already enough hurt without additng to it

    At the same time, don’t remain silent. Often people avoid talking to the victim or their family, or even the family of the abuser. Sometimes just a “how are you doing, or a hug and I’m praying” makes an impact. Silence makes us wonder and imaginations run wild.

    When our words come from a heart of prayer and care, and we show the Love of Jesus, well, they matter.

    1. That’s true, Jen. Sometimes extended periods of silence can make everyone feel more awkward. A well-timed “How are you doing?” goes a long way.

  3. I have worked with these kind of people since 2003 and I have to admit this is best two sided story I have seen. It neither condemns the offender nor the victim. The truth is we as a society are too quick to point a finger….we need to stop and breathe. Yes what they have done is bad but the whole of society could be a bigger help if we made the reinteration in to society easier. This is just not the offender but anyone convicted of a crime…the new penalties under awa and sorna stiffer rules and regulations have actually put us more at risk as they create a no win situationfor the offender. Stiffer rules laws are not the answer. Being compassionate and reaching out is. Learning to know them is a big key. Being vigilant as a parent and knowing where our kids are who they will be with etc is the key to success. The other is that society creates these people… custody mothers losing use the molestation card…girl jealous cause guy she likes rejects her….also cooercion by prosecution….lack of knowlege of the law all this gets innocents on registry…yes there are those that do it….but what’s his/her background we may never know….abuse is a never ending circle and vicious. But pointing fingers is not the answer…if you wanna know more check out remember ALL HAVE SINNED AND COME SHORT OF THE GLORY OF GOD….

    1. Amen! Majority of those who have abused are regretful of what they did. They want support to ensure they don’t offend again. Their families need support and not condemnation.

    2. Please be kidding. The rate, nationwide, of false reporting of any sexual assault is 8%. That’s too much but at the same time, it’s lower than that of almost any other crime, ever. Only 2% of cases involving children, again using Department of Justice statistics, are found to be false reporting.

      Also, Jean should read the book “Predators” by Dr. Martha Stout, who has interviewed child abusers and sexual offenders across the country. “Regret” is something they can fake, not something they own. They know exactly what the system wants to hear from them, but privately? Among each other? They relish describing their crimes. Child sexual abuse has one of the highest recidivism rates of any crime, ever. Don’t be fooled… either of you.

  4. I don’t know if I agree with all of these. Parents should be vigilant when it comes to safeguarding their children. It is true that even if a parent tries to do everything right, bad things can still happen to children. However, there are things that parents can and should do to decrease the odds that their children will become victims of abuse. Isn’t preventative thinking the reason why we talk about and use other safety measures with our children? Fire safety and car safety issues come to mind. Knowing and following precautions won’t prevent accidents from happening, but we educate ourselves about them to reduce risks. Parents should have conversations with children about recognizing abuse and feeling safe about reporting it. Parents should also familiarize themselves with characteristics of abusers and err on the side of caution when allowing children on outings away from parental supervision. These are things parents should be doing on a regular basis, not just when something bad has happened. Unfortunately though, people don’t think about prevention and education concerning these matters until something bad does happen, and the terrible incident becomes a conversation point for things that should have been discussed prior. Regardless of what people do or don’t say, parents of the abused are going to feel guilty. They are going to think “if only.” I agree that parents of the abused shouldn’t blame themselves for the wrong actions of others, and people should not say things directly to parents of the abused to make them feel badly. I do not agree though that their misplaced feelings of guilt should be a reason why no one else should have conversations about recognizing signs of abuse or characteristics of abusers. I think it’s natural and even healthy perhaps to talk about these things when they happen if done in an appropriate way.

    1. I’m not against prevention conversations. But the tone, the audience, and the timing need to be carefully considered.

  5. This is really, really good, Shawn. I’ve been guilty of saying some of these things, but I totally agree with you.

    Sidenote: I’m glad you’re blogging again.

  6. After I told my family and friends I was raped, people treated me different. Friends stoped joking with me like they did before. Some of my male friends wouldn’t hug me or if their girlfriend or wife left the room they would get up and leave too. I felt like I did something wrong, like I was dirty. Its important not to stop being there for the people who where hurt. Some may not want to be hugged yet, but others feel hurt cause they aren’t hugged. I think this ties in with your number 4, instead of keeping the person a victim, help them become a Victor.

  7. It is always bad to hear about sexual abuse with children, but from personal experience, sexual abuse comes in many forms as adults as well. To include from a spouse. It is not something easy to deal with more less talk about. So yes it is hard to hear comments and negativity when it comes to this topic. But sometimes just letting it roll off you is just easier rather then say something out load……

  8. Taking a “bad feeling” about a person to the police isn’t going to get you far. Heck, even taking EVIDENCE to the police doesn’t always get you far. Many years ago, I found out that one of my coworkers was making plans to meet with a 13-year-old girl. I contacted the police, was grilled as to my own involvement with the guy — there was none other than coworkers, btw — and otherwise basically told that I was overreacting. They didn’t take my report seriously at all, and it was based on far more than “bad feelings.” I had actual emails about this guy’s plans directly from him. I don’t know if he ever met up with the girl or not, and in spite of the crappy outcome, I’d still do it again if I had to.

    But I do agree that it is ignorant and potentially hurtful to say “I had a bad feeling about that person.”

  9. Shawn, thank you so much for this. I thought at first you might just say, “Don’t tell someone they are making it up,” but thankfully, you assume that this isn’t going to happen, because man, it shouldn’t. Instead, you brought up some real heavy hitters. I’ll be posting this to my FB feed and Twitter ASAP. Well written, man!

  10. All of these are awful things to say. Two more I would add:

    What did she do to provoke it? What was she wearing? Was she dressed like a slut?

    Victim blaming is rampant and it’s cruel. A victim of a sexual assault is NEVER to blame, regardless of the age of the victim. The vast majority of teenagers wear what adults buy them, so if there’s a perceived issue with their clothing, it’s the adults’ fault, not the child’s.

    Why is he bringing it up now? That was 20 years ago! Man up, buttercup!

    Some victims of abuse go their entire lives without dealing with the issue. This is devastating to their psyche and affects all areas of adult relationships, both romantic and platonic. Whenever a person has the courage to “come out” with their abuse story, we should applaud them, not berate them. It’s not an easy thing to do. But it is necessary if they are to ever get their life back on track.

  11. The problem is that our culture is filled with “bold” people who confide in the safety of online comments which allows them to say things that they would NEVER, ever say to the person’s face. It’s cowardly.

    My filter for these situations is pretty simple: If the person(s) involved were standing right in front of my face, would I say these things? If not, shut up and move along.

Comments are closed.