What to do if something has already happened

Helping you help your child

Many parents and carers have feelings of shock, confusion, anger, or fear after they find out that their child may have been sexually abused. You may be experiencing strong feelings like these right now.

You can download our guide with advice on supporting your child and practical information on what will happen if there is an investigation about your child being sexually abused.

The guide includes links to further information on supporting children and the process surrounding medical examinations and prosecution, including when the police or Crown Prosecution Service decides not to proceed.

You can also continue reading below for information on how to support your child and what will happen if you need to report abuse.

How can sexual abuse affect my child?

Child sexual abuse affects different children in different ways. For some children, the impact isn’t immediately clear while other children display a range of emotions and behaviours. Abuse can have lasting and damaging effects on some children, such as fear, distress, shame, self-blame, low self-esteem, anger, or memory loss.

However your child responds, it is important that they are given help and support. Children who experience abuse but who are made safe and are supported by protective parents and carers can and do recover, going on to lead normal, happy and fulfilled lives. 

You can find more information about the effects of sexual abuse on children on Parents Protect.

What should I do first? How should I respond?

Whether your child has told you or someone else about their abuse, it is vital to listen to them and reassure them that they have done the right thing in speaking about what has happened.

It is important that your child knows that what they’ve said is being taken seriously, that they will be protected, and that what happened to them was not their fault.

If you are the first person they have told, you will need to report your concerns to the police and explain to your child what will happen next and how they will be supported.

You can talk to someone

The confidential Stop It Now! helpline (0808 1000 900) works to prevent child sexual abuse and supports people who want to help protect children. The experienced advisors will listen and offer confidential advice and support. When you call, you don’t have to give your name or identifying details if you don’t want to.

This might be the right time for you to call the helpline and start to talk about what kind of help you need. If you’re not ready to speak to someone, you can send us a secure message or use the online live chat.

Things to remember

  • Have open conversations – let your child know you are there for them and that you will listen to them. Have open conversations about their feelings and give them time and space to talk.
  • Do not blame yourself or your child for what happened – it can be difficult for us as adults to understand how sexual abuse can happen without us knowing. From our work with children who have experienced sexual abuse, hearing adults close to them say ‘I believe you’ and ‘you are not to blame for what has happened’ can be helpful and supportive for many children.
  • Ask important questions to ensure your child’s safety – but do not ask any leading questions. When your child does talk about the abuse, understand that sharing this with you helps them make more sense of it all. They will be experiencing a range of feelings, some that they might find hard to cope with.
  • Know your own limits – recognise that your own emotions might be difficult to cope with at times. You will need support from others to help you process what has happened. It is normal to feel angry and upset but try not to show this to your child as they might think that you are angry at them for what has happened. Whether you have others to talk to for support or not, you can contact the confidential Stop It Now! helpline
  • After reporting – there will be a lot to take in, so making a note of things you are told by your child or by professionals involved might help you both immediately and in the long run. You might also find that it helps to write down any of your worries or concerns, as this can help you feel in control of what is happening.
  • Help your child to be and feel safe – whatever has happened before, your child must feel safe from harm now. And if you are worried that your child or other children might still be at risk of abuse, you need to tell the police or local authority even if this feels scary.
  • Develop a family safety plan – it is normal to be worried about possible further risks to your child. Making a family safety plan can help you take practical steps to keep your child safe.

Reporting abuse 

If you are concerned a child is being abused or has been abused in the past, you should tell the police, or your local children’s social services department as soon as possible. 

Read more about how to make a report to the police and what will happen after you’ve made a report.

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