Tag Archives: Sexual Abuse Allegations

How to handle sexual abuse allegations Part 2


Here is Part 2 – Points 6-10.  To read Points 1-5, How to handle sexual abuse allegations Part 1.


6. Who, what, when, where and how: talk with the child in a private setting, if possible not in the very room where the abuse occurred. You want to know: who is/are the alleged perpetrator(s)?what happened?, what level of sexual intrusion, what level of violence? how long has this being happening, when was the last time? where did it happen?  How did the alleged perpetrator enforce silence? With threats of violence to the child or the family, with manipulation and bribes? Does the child feel that he is the one who loved her the most?  Were others also abused? Are there witnesses who saw/heard or should/could have known?  Are others at risk?

7. Help the child’s mother/primary caretaker: she is crucial to the child’s development towards health or pathology. Her support for the child is the most important predictor of psychological outcome. She may be dependent on the alleged offender, or afraid of him. The abuse disclosure may trigger memories of her own childhood abuse. Do not be judgmental, be supportive and help her be the best mother she can be at this time of personal and familial crisis.

8. The alleged offender does not fit into any one profile: he may look ‘innocently normal’, needy and immature, looking to children to meet his needs, he may be a nurturant parent, or even the more nurturant one, he may be a substance abuser, he may be psychotic, or a family tyrant, or a psychopath with a criminal record, or a pedophile who will bow out and move on to the next family with children of the same age, etc. Whatever profile he fits into, he too may be in crisis, and may be at risk for violence against the family or himself. And, whatever his profile, the victim and the other children may suffer from losing him, financially or emotionally. Family reunification is a later issue that requires thoughtful assessment.

9. The victim does not fit into any one profile or follow any one path. Depending on many variables, she may or may not be headed towards psychologic problems. The family needs to know that their reactions are the most critical variable. 

10. Long term outcomes cover a broad range of possibilities, influenced by many factors: the child’s biologic and temperamental disposition towards resilience or vulnerability; the child’s early history of nurturing and attachment; the level of stress in the child’s early life, as it affected her and her caregivers; the child’s character development and capabilities; the child’s mental health; the particulars of the child’s experience of abuse and violence. In addition, there are many factors that caregivers can influence after the abuse has been disclosed: the immediate and long term level of support within the family; the immediate and long term availability of psychologic counseling for the child and the family; the relationship with the non-offending parent; in cases of incest, the child and the family’s relationship with the offending parent; acceptance and support within the larger family and the community; the absence of blaming the victim; the social circumstances and security of the family; living in a safe environment; the availability of education, etc  



How to handle sexual abuse allegations, Part 1.

Unfortunately, sexual abuse is a significant threat to children, especially to vulnerable children, and caregivers should know what to do if a child discloses abuse.  A friend and colleague, Dr. Maria Sauzier, is an expert in child sexual abuse and offers ten “things to do” when sexual abuse is suspected.  The first five suggestions are given in this posting, and I will post the second five next week.


September 2011

Maria Sauzier MD





  • The victim is identified as ‘she’, although the number of abused boys is not insubstantial.
  • The abuser is identified as ‘he’ given that 90% or so of abusers are male.
  • He is an ‘alleged abuser’ until a court has found him guilty.
  • These points are written both for caregivers who are family members and those who are not.

1. Don’t panic: finding out about sexual abuse can trigger profound reactions in caregivers: outrage, disgust, shame, fear that the damage is irreversible, fear of retaliation, denial or minimization, blaming the victim, resurgence of PTSD symptoms based on their own past abuse, etc. Make a mental map of who is around you: who can you trust to help you and your family in this crisis.

2. Safety first: assess the need for immediate medical intervention, immediate removal of the child and family to prevent further violence—–for ex if there is a threat to punish the child for disclosing, from the offender or from a family member. The alleged offender is the one who should leave the home.

3. Compose yourself, watch your reactions: the child is trying to make sense of what has been happening to her, is easily influenced by the clues she is picking up. Issues of shame and blame are particularly critical. Be calm and empathetic, do not jump to conclusions, do not pepper the child with questions, particularly leading questions, do not imply ‘how could you let this happen’, do not minimize, do not make promises you cannot keep (‘everything will be alright’).

4. Think developmentally: how old is the child chronologically and developmentally? This will guide your approach to finding out what happened and how to intervene.

5. Think of the family as a system: all members are in crisis, including the siblings and other dependents. Their reactions may help or impede the evaluation and the psychologic progress of the victim. You need to know what they know about the abuse and about the current crisis (why has father left?). This family system is embedded in a sociocultural structure, know as much as you can about cultural norms and expectations.

Go on to How to handle sexual abuse allegations Part 2

Read this blog in Spanish.