Help in case of child sexual abuse

When we are in the role of a trusted adult and have a child sharing the „secret of abuse“, it is very important to know that:

  • Often children tend to reveal the „secret“, but with certain conditions: „I have a problem, but if I tell you about it, you will have to promise not to tell anyone else.“
  • Most children are well aware that there will be negative consequences if they violate the secret of abuse.
  • Very often the perpetrator uses threats with consequences for the child or their relatives and loved ones and thus forces them to remain silent.
  • It is a good idea to let the child know that you want to help and that the law requires you to provide information when a child reports abuse.
  • Just as abuse in itself is illegal, it is illegal not to report child abuse.
  • It is important to observe the ethics of maintaining the confidentiality of personal information, discussing the abuse only with professionals involved in the process of child protection and support and providing only the information needed to perform their professional task. These people can be the social worker in the child protection department, the police investigator, the school nurse or the pedagogical adviser, the school principal.

    Here are some suggestions for your approach and behavior:

  • Find a secluded and protected place to talk to the child.
  • Do not panic and do not express resentment and criticism of the child.
  • Show the child that you trust that they are telling the truth.
  • Use the child‘s vocabulary.
  • Name things directly as they are.
  • Reassure the child that it is good to tell about what happened.
  • Help the child with questions: Who did it, where, what caused you? Never ask the question „Why?“, because this in itself implies an accusation.
  • Assure the child that what happened is not their fault, that they are not bad and have not done anything wrong. 
  • Assess the child‘s immediate need for safety and the degree of risk to their life and health.
  • Reassure the child that you will do your best to protect and support him or her.
  • Explain to the child what you intend to do.
  • Inform the responsible authorities in a timely manner.

    If you are a teacher at a school and a child reveals a „secret abuse“ to you during the lesson, confirm to the child that you have heard what he or she has told you and continue the lesson. Later, find a time and place where you can talk to them in private. A good option is to use the break.
    Research shows that the silence of children who have been sexually abused is a serious problem. The effect of threats and control that the abuser can exert on the child is just one of the reasons why every 10th child in the world prefers to never share about having been a victim of sexual violence. Parents and adults who are close to the child have a significant preventive role here. By interacting with children, they can create an atmosphere of trust and encourage them to share without feelings of fear or shame.
    What the abuser would do to silence the child is not some kind of black magic, but a simple psychological device, the effect of which could easily be neutralized. Just prepare your child for the fact that if someone insists on keeping it a secret, for something that has happened to his body or for something that makes the child uncomfortable, then that person is not good and the child should share it with a trusted person. adult at the earliest opportunity. When a child knows this simple rule and has heard it many times, the chance of it appearing in their mind in a situation of danger and acting as a warning alarm is very high.
    Remember that feelings of shame can be a powerful barrier to a child‘s confidence in adult action. That is why it is not good to use shame as an educational method. Children need to know that they are always valuable and loved, and when they do something wrong, it is their behavior that is blamed, not their personality. 
    Parents, adults, are the ones on whom children depend to be emotionally mature and able to cope with all the dangers in life.


“Children are born neither bad nor good. Who decides whether good or hardened and fierce lone wolves will be found? This is us, their parents - the people who are obliged to show the child what love is.”

From a speech by Astrid Lindgren,
1978, Frankfurt am Main