Working with Law Enforcement: Getting Started
Some abuse is only discovered when a child talks to his or her parent about what happened. Hearing this in your child’s voice is heartbreaking and stirs up many emotions. It may be hard to believe, especially if the perpetrator is known to you.
Making the decision to report your child’s abuse to law enforcement is difficult. Friends and family members may give you differing opinions about whether you should make a formal report to authorities. Some wish to hide that the abuse ever happened while others demand justice.
Child abuse is most often perpetrated by a person known to the child and family. This can make reporting even harder, especially if the abuser is someone you respect or love. What is known about abusers is that they will most likely continue to abuse children; very rarely does someone stop with one child. Even though it may be emotionally difficult, reporting abuse gives you the chance to protect your child and other children who are unable to protect themselves.
Once you’ve made the decision to report the abuse to law enforcement, these guidelines will help you manage your relationship with the child as well as preserve evidence.
Do not ask the child questions about the abuse.
A normal response to hearing your child talk about being abused is to ask more questions. Do not do this! A child’s memories can be changed by asking questions that are leading. Even something as simple as, “Was he wearing blue?” can plant a false memory in the child’s mind.
Instead of asking questions, just listen to whatever they wish to disclose and offer your love and support for them. Let them know that you believe them and that what happened was not their fault. Even though you may hear shocking or horrifying details, being calm is important. If you react with horror, your child may take it personally and think they were in the wrong or are somehow now an object of disgust.
Tell your child that you are going to talk to someone who can help.
This does not mean that you are asking the child’s permission to reach out to authorities. Rather this means you are letting the child know that reporting what happened is important. A child may not want it reported, especially if the perpetrator threatened to harm the people that she/he loves. Your job, though, is to provide safety, and that is best done through the authorities.
Telling your child your plans is important. It gives them an opportunity to ask questions and to have their concerns heard. It also shows that you respect your child.
Make sure your child is safe.
Take steps to make sure your child is no longer in danger from the perpetrator. This may mean that an activity is canceled or that alternate plans are made for care. When you make the report, make sure that law enforcement knows of any concerns you have for your child’s safety.
Reassure your child of God’s love. Many children of abuse report later in life that the abuse made them feel unlovable and that something must have been wrong with them. Some feel God must not love them, and that is why the abuse happened. Keep reminding your child of God’s love for him or her. Remind them of the Bible stories that show that Jesus loves and cares for children, and he considers their faith to be special. For more information on sharing’ Jesus’ love with children, go to Talking Jesus with a Child Survivor.