When a child talks about their situation, it is important to show the child openness by listening, showing you are interested, and being available if the child wants to talk about it more. Bear in mind that a child might not talk about their situation the same way that an adult would.
There may be various things standing in the way of a child talking about what they’ve been through. A common reason for shying away from talking about the abuse is guilt. The child may feel guilty for what other people in the family have done or that they did not do anything to prevent an incident. The child may feel ambivalent about what happened and may feel sorry or responsible for the abuser. The child’s self-image may be destroyed to a point where they feel they are worthless. The cultural taboo surrounding domestic violence can also make the child feel ashamed of the situation, making it more difficult for the child to talk about it.
Many children who experience abuse avoid talking about it because of loyalty or fear that something will happen to their family or the abuser.
Not knowing their rights or where to turn are also common reasons why children and young people do not talk about their situation. Many children say they tried to tell someone, but there was no response from the adults around them. The child may then interpret this to mean that they are to blame, that adults just don’t understand or can’t help, or that they can’t talk about what happened.
If the child does not feel it is safe to talk about their situation, there is a risk of isolation and greater dependence on the parents. The trauma is swept under the rug, and the child’s ability to understand, interpret and process their experiences shrinks.
Talking and listening to the child can make a huge difference. Professionals who work with children must have good understanding of the child’s internal world view and knowledge about children and vulnerability to abuse. But, normal conversations with adults who dare to take on an important role and make themselves available are also extremely significant to the child.
It is important to never blame the child, regardless of what they tell you. The child may feel like they did something to contribute to the abuse. That’s why it’s important to stress to the child that it is never their fault that an adult is abusive. The abuser is always responsible for their own actions.
Adults employed at certain authorities and some organisations that work with children and young people are obliged to report to Social Services any child they encounter who has experienced abuse or has been mistreated in any way. Even if it’s just a suspicion of abuse, they must report it. All adults who become aware that a child is being harmed are advised to contact Social Services. Read more about how to make a report to Social Services here.