How to Help as a Parent

If your daughter or son confides in you that she/he has been sexually assaulted, you may experience a number of conflicting emotions, such as anger, guilt, self blame, betrayal, and helplessness. As a parent, it is normal to feel any or all of these emotions at once. Your daughter or son has put a lot of trust in you to share such a sensitive experience, and perhaps without realizing it, she/he has place a lot of responsibility on you as well.

Some common feelings you may have:

  • CONCERN FOR THE VICTIM: You may feel some stress and anxiety about how to appropriate help the victim deal with the trauma.
  • HELPLESSNESS: Parents may wish they could have protected their child and want to fix the situation so that life can get back to normal. This can be even harder for parents who live a long distance from the campus.
  • FEELING OUT OF CONTROL: Just as the victim is feeling the effects of the loss of control in their lives, so too does the parent. The abuse/assault has changed the parent’s relationship with the victim, and it is out of the parent’s control to change that.
  • WANTING TO HARM THE OFFENDER: This is a natural reaction, but not a realistic one. This creates further crisis, and the child might feel the need to protect the offender (especially if the offender is known to the victim).
  • LOSS OF INTIMACY/TRUST: Because the victim needs time to work on trust issues, the loss of trust affects any relationship in which she/he is involved.
  • GUILT: Parents often feel guilty about their own feelings of anger at how crisis is disrupting their family.
  • DIFFICULTY EXPRESSING YOUR OWN FEELINGS: Parents may feel that because they are not the actual crime victim themselves, they should be able to deal with their own feelings and “just get over it”.
  • SECONDARY TRAUMATIC STRESS: Often, vicarious trauma refers to a changing in someone’s worldview as the result of hearing a victim’s story. It is important for parents to realize that their feelings are valid. Everyone who is directly involved with the victim will be affected by her/his experience. Consider utilizing stress reduction techniques to manage anxiety, and don’t blame your daughter or son. Believe your child. Seek resources and support for yourself. Let your child ask you for what she or he needs, and try not to assume that you will automatically know.

Make sure you take care of yourself.  Supporting a child through a trauma can be a difficult and emotionally draining experience.  Don't hesitate to seek help and support for yourself when you need it.