HOW TO RESPOND TO DISCLOSURES OF SEXUAL ABUSE - PART 1
series: PREVENTING SEXUAL ABUSE by meera seshadri
Responding to a disclosure is hugely important because how you respond can really change the course of whether that child pursues options for their own healing or just feels validated in what happened to them.
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So really listening with an open mind and not asking any why questions; like why were you there or why did this happen? And of course avoiding the standard victim blaming questions because they had no control over their situation.
Also making sure that you understand your limitations as a professional and making sure to refer them to the specialist in the camp. If they seem open to that help.
Not sort of taking charge of their story and telling it to someone else without them knowing, that can be really alienating. Making sure that you don't force them to report it. If it's something that's going on within the family or the community, they can face a huge stigma from people that they've trusted, that they have let this out.
Making sure that they feel safe and supported once they've told you. So asking questions like; what would make you feel safe right now? what would be most helpful? do you want me to check in with you again in a few weeks or in a few days? or is this something that you'd just like to tell someone and then not have me ask again?
Then follow up by saying; no matter what you're feeling right now, I'm here to listen to you and help you find the best course of action. Also acknowledging that you may not be the best resource for a continued source of support for this child.
I think very young children may not even be able to name that this happened. When they do disclose, they may disclose it in a very factual way that this and this happened.
As an adult, you may be able to perceive that something very inappropriate has happened. It is important if you are going to refer or involve more people that you tell the child; I'm going to talk to so and so because they're going to help me figure out how best to support you.
Put that in language that a child will be able to understand, but it is very important that you keep them involved to the extent possible.
Meera is a health communications specialist, researcher, and activist working at the intersection of gender-based violence prevention and sexual health promotion. She has spent over a decade working to increase access to, and utilization of, comprehensive...
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sexual health resources for adolescents in communities worldwide, developing violence prevention and education programs at Emory, Georgetown, and Harvard Universities and working as a consultant and curriculum development specialist for Soteria Solutions, the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the World Bank.
She is passionate about confronting the ideological and institutional challenges that affect young people's health, wellness, and autonomy. Meera works in coalition with university, non-profit, corporate, and community stakeholders to create policies and environments that prioritize gender equity, intersectionality, and social justice.