Finding out that your child has been sexually exploited is a heart-breaking discovery for any parent. One that can leave you with more questions than answers.

Here, we answer some of the most commonly asked questions. But remember, there are a number of specialist organisations that can give you one-to-one, expert advice on how you and your child come to terms with what has happened.

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“I’ve just found out my child is being abused. What should I do?”

The most important thing to remember is that you are not to blame and nor is your child. Only the person who did the abusing is to blame. So don’t worry that you, your child or your family will be judged badly or get into trouble. Instead, contact one of the organisations that exists to help. Organisations like PACE, NSPCC and ParentLine Scotland that help worried parents like you day in, day out. You can also contact services in your local area, click here to search for the social work department in your local council area.

“Why didn’t my child confide in me?”

There are many different reasons why your child might not have told you about the abuse – none of them are a reflection on you or your parenting skills. For example, your child may have:

  • Been unaware that what was happening was wrong or abuse.
  • Believed the offender was a loving friend, boyfriend or girlfriend.
  • Been unsure who to tell.
  • Thought it happened too long ago to tell anyone.
  • Been in denial that it actually happened.
  • Found it difficult to talk about sex and relationships.
  • Felt embarrassed, ashamed or scared of what the offender might do if they spoke out.
  • Worried that no-one would believe them or that they would be judged or rejected.
  • Feared for their own safety and that of the wider family.
  • Become dependent on the offender for alcohol or drugs.
  • Been made to feel like they owed the offender in some way.
  • Wanted to avoid disappointing you.

The important thing is that you know now and can do something to help.

“Is it normal for them to behave like this?”

Each and every case of child sexual exploitation is different, which is why it’s so important to get one-to-one advice. However if your child has suffered abuse from someone they once trusted you might find they have difficulty controlling their anger. They may become verbally and physically abusive, directing that anger at you and the rest of the family. Or, they might display a whole mix of behaviours, reflecting on the outside how confused they feel on the inside.

“Is it normal for me to feel like this?”

Discovering your child has been sexually exploited can make you feel many things. Shocked, confused, scared, angry, helpless, even depressed. All of these are perfectly normal and understandable reactions.

What’s important is that you acknowledge how you are feeling and regularly share those feelings with someone you trust. The better you look after yourself, the better you’ll be able to look after your child and the rest of your family.

“My child keeps shutting me out. Why?”

Whether your child was unaware of what was happening or keeping their abuse a secret, they have a lot to think about and come to terms with. Until then, you may find that they don’t want to talk about it.

If they don’t want to talk, think about what you can do to show them that you still care for them. Some parents make sure their child always comes home to a hot meal. Others put a hot water bottle in their child’s bed at night, give them a cuddle and tell them they love them. Be patient, gentle but persistent.

“What else can I do in the meantime?”

If your child does open up to you about their abuse, keep a note of each and every incident they mention: times, places, names, nicknames, events. Details such as these could prove very useful if their sexual exploitation was to be investigated further.

“Will the abuse affect my child long-term?”

Sadly, in some cases, child sexual exploitation can cause long-term damage to the young person’s physical, sexual, mental and social health. So seek help early and make sure that any child exploitation specialists work with your child are made aware of any ongoing concerns you have about their behaviour.