Information for Parents of Survivors
If you find out or suspect that your student has been sexually assaulted, it can take a toll on you as a parent. It’s important to find a way to manage your feelings, so you can focus on creating a safe environment for your student that is free from harm, judgment, and blame. It is imperative that when your student discloses to you, you continue to repeat the following messages through both your words and your actions:
- I love you.
- What happened is not your fault.
- I will do everything I can to keep you safe.
How am I supposed to react?
There is no “right” reaction to hearing that your student has been abused. You may experience a wide range of reactions and feelings that may impact different aspects of your life. Some common reactions from parents include:
- Anger. You may feel angry at the abuser for hurting your student or even frustrated with your student for not telling you. It’s also possible to feel angry at your student for disclosing the abuse. It’s not easy news to hear, but it’s important to remember it is not your student's fault.
- Anxiety. You might be anxious about responding in the “right” way to your student or navigating the other relationships in your life, especially if you have a relationship with the abuser.
- Fear. Depending on your family circumstances, you may be afraid that the abuser will find a way to harm your student again or be concerned about taking care of your family on your own.
- Sadness. You may feel sad for your student, for your family, or for yourself. When a student discloses sexual abuse, it will cause changes in your life. It’s OK to be upset over the changes in your life that may result from this disclosure.
- Shock. If you had no idea that the harm was occurring, you may be very surprised to hear what has happened.
It is important to keep in mind that there is no one “right” reaction, and that all reactions and responses are normal. Having both you and your student talk to a professional about these thoughts and feelings can help sort through these issues. Professional support can also result in healthier long- and short-term results for both you and your student.
How do I manage these feelings?
Your student is counting on you for support. In order to put your student's safety first, it’s important to take care of yourself. That means finding a way to work through your feelings and reactions to the abuse that doesn’t interfere with your student's welfare. It may not be easy, but with the right support it is possible.
- Consider talking to a counselor one-on-one. Individual counseling gives you the chance to focus entirely on you and your concerns, without needing to worry about how your student will react to those thoughts.
- Develop your support system. It might be family and friends you trust, or it might be a support group that you didn’t have a connection with before.
- Set limits. Dealing with these emotions can be time- consuming and draining. Set aside time for activities that don’t revolve around the abuse.
- Practice self-care to keep your mind and body in healthy shape.
What can I expect from my child?
The effects of sexual assault and abuse vary from person to person. The process of healing from sexual abuse can take a long time, and it’s understandable to feel frustrated as a parent. Some of these reactions could cause you discomfort or take you by surprise.
- Being angry at you for not protecting them
- Confiding in someone who isn’t you
- Not talking about it at all
- Talking about the abuse all the time