When a child discloses their sexual abuse to you, it means that they trust you. It’s important to react in a responsible way that’s reassuring to the child.

Disclosure of sexual abuse means a child has chosen you as the person he or she trusts enough to tell. It is the moment when children learn whether others can be trusted to stand up for them.

Below are some guidelines for how to handle a disclosure.

Talking to children about signs you see or something they’ve told you:

  • Find a quiet, non-isolated place to talk.
  • Drop to the child’s eye level, or sit next to the child.
  • Remain calm, be patient, and try not to rush the child.
  • Ask the child about the sign in a simple, open-ended style. “I’m worried about you. You seem really afraid and sad.” Or, “Is anything bothering you?”
  • Practice active listening and make mental notes. Find gentle ways to show the child you’re taking them seriously.
  • Let the child use their own words and repeat their words exactly again, followed by, “Tell me more?”
  • Reassure the child that he or she has done nothing wrong and say, “I care about you.”
  • Tell the child, “This took a lot of courage. I’m proud of you telling me.”

Refrain from behaviors that will frighten the child, put him or her on the defensive, or cause him or her to relive the abusive events.

  • Don’t ask questions that begin with “W” like who, where, when, or why.
  • Don’t overreact or make negative statements about the abuser.
  • Don’t make judgments or conclusions about the child or abuser.
  • Don’t interrogate, investigate, or delve deeply into the events.
  • Don’t ask leading questions or make suggestions about what happened. For example, ask, “How did you get hurt?” rather than “Did someone do that to you?”
  • Don’t make promises that the information will be kept confidential.
  • Don’t make any broad promises about the future.

Once you’ve talked to the child, you’ll need to report the information to the authorities.

Learn About Reporting