Monday, 5 November 2012

Please listen when a child asks for help!

If there is one thing that upsets me, both as a father as an abuse survivor, it is the ease with which too many people discount abuse.

People cite several reasons for not believing accusations of abuse, and I would like to address some of them:

"He has always been a difficult child. This is just another way to make his parents life hard".

Abused children are often difficult children. Abused children don't know how to relate to people in a healthy way. They have issues with authority. They lack self-respect, and therefore aren't able to respect others. They know the language of violence better than any other. They tend to act out in a misguided attempt to get attention, to be seen and heard, or because they aren't able to act in any other way.

Is he accusing his parents because he is a difficult child, or is he a difficult child because his accusations are true?

There are so many holes in his story, how can he expect anyone to believe it?

Abused children dissociate. Even when they don't, their memories might be unclear, leaving the child apparently unsure of his story. Repressed memories might continue to surface, causing it to appear as if the story keeps changing. Interpretations of events might change. Children are often groomed to the point where they believe everything is normal and OK  and as they explore their experiences, they start to realise that their previous perceptions were wrong. This might also cause the story to appear to change.

When a child, or an adult survivor who is only starting to heal speak about his experiences of abuse, it is more likely than not that his story will appear to be full of holes, and to change all the time. That does not mean it isn't true.

I can't do anything without proof. What if the accused is innocent and his life is ruined by the accusations?

What if he's not innocent? What is more important - helping an abused child or protecting a potential perpetrator who hasn't been proven guilty yet, and will have a change to prove his innocence in court?

He is a decent person, he would never do that to a child.

We only have to look at Sandusky, Jimmy Savile, the Clergy and the U.S. Boy Scouts to see that an outwardly "decent" person can still be a sexual predator. In fact, most predators are likeable - this is what enables them to get close to children.

He's is still young. He'll forget it if we just act as if nothing happened.

There isn't much to say to this argument other than that it couldn't be further from the truth. Even if the child appears to forget, it will always be there, under the surface, waiting to be awakened later in life, with devastating consequences.

I'm scared to call child services. What if they remove the children?

What if the children should be removed? Child services departments all over the world consider removing the child from the parental home to be a last resort. They will do a thorough investigation and try several other options first, before they remove the children. Even after the children have been removed, they will often put a lot of time and effort into finding a solution that will allow them to reunite the family.

If, in the end, the children are placed with family members or in foster care, you can be sure that staying with the parents was not in the children's best interest. In fact, if that happens, it would mean that your actions have saved the children from a considerable amount of addition suffering.

What if they find out that it was me who called, and retaliate?

I am not aware of any child services department in the world who will disclose your name to family you are reporting. If you have doubts, ask to stay anonymous.

It's not my business to intervene

As an adult, it is your business to intervene on behalf on any child who needs help and cannot help himself. Saying it's not your concern is simply another way of saying you don't want to take the responsibility to help defenceless children.

I struggled for years to get someone to listen and believe me when I accused my perpetrators of abusing me. There were some of the reasons cited by those who refused to help me.

I leave you with a few simple facts. The vast majority of children who murder their parents -

  • Have suffered sustained abuse for many years.
  • Have tried to get help multiple times
  • Believed that their parents would eventually kill them
  • Saw no other way to escape from the abuse, alive.

Do you want to be complicit to pushing a child to such an act of desperation? If the answer is no, then this is my plea - give a child the benefit of the doubt, and do something to help. 


  1. I have always loved the saying "out of the mouths of babes" because even though children can exagerate things there is always a sense of truth in what they say. So I agree with you, we need to listen to children especially our own children, our children's friends, our nephews and nieces. Nice bit of info - thanks I for one will make a concerted effort to listen to children more carefully. Remembering it is not only the "unpleasant" we want to hear, children can also say such beautiful things.

    1. Yes, children can say beautiful things. We should listen to both.


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