As much as this is a new, unknown and upsetting thing for you and him to go through, it is not (for the most cases) unknown to CPS. This is not a "do it yourself" job. Your ex sounds violent and abusive... not a good situation for your son.
You will need to contact police and cps. While this process can be difficult, in the end it will help protect him, get the man into treatment (not necessarily your main concern but something that can help protect others), and get treatment for you and your son.
I don't know what state you live in but this sounds like a mandatory reporting situation. You can get more help here to get you through this process that others have gone through. At the risk of "too much information", I am reprinting a chapter from my forthcoming book (please don't reprint or distribute) to give you some advice.
For the Parent of Abused Children or Adults
When You First Find Out
There have been a number of helpful books written in the past 20 years for parents of children who were abused. Research indicates that the child who is believed and supported will do better than one who is disbelieved or blamed. One of the major reasons why abused boys do not tell anyone what’s happening to them is their fear that they will not be believed. On the other hand, one of the protective factors that reduce the possibility that a victim will have major problems in life or become a perpetrator has been shown to be belief and support by a significant person in his life. Again, it is very important that parents not look at the victimized child as a “perpetrator-to-be”.
(If your child has sexually acted out with other children, don’t assume that he has become a perpetrator or predator. Many, though not most, children who have been abused may act out, and if this problem arises it needs to be addressed by an experienced professional.)
Aside from the death or serious injury or illness of a child, one of the major fears for a parent is to find out that his/her child has been sexually abused. A common concern of parents of victims is that the child will be damaged for life by the sexual abuse. Fortunately, this is not generally true. Children are more resilient than we often believe, although the effects of the abuse can be devastating, particularly if the child is unable to tell or does tell and is disbelieved or not supported.
It appears to me that the vast majority of survivors I’ve worked with and many others who write on the MaleSurvivor discussion board either did not tell a parent after the abuse, or if they did, they were either not believed or somehow were blamed for the abuse. But this conclusion is not based on research and is just my opinion. There may be many relatively healthy survivors out there who told someone significant when the abuse took place and perhaps went on to live fairly good lives and did not need the healing community of MaleSurvivor, and so have not discussed their lives or problems in this forum or sought the services of a professional.
Generally, the best thing a parent can do is to be supportive of the child who discloses abuse. While it is natural to want to gather up as much information as possible, the parent is likely going to be somewhat upset. This may convey a message to the child that something is seriously wrong. In general, the younger the child, the less he understands about the sexual acts and the more likely he will be to blame himself. Therefore, it is important for the parent to gather sufficient information while being supportive and caring.
For example, if a doctor diagnosed your child with leukemia, your reaction to the news could provide strength and reassurance for the child or could increase his worry. Today, a diagnosis of leukemia is not the death sentence it was 30 years ago. The parent’s reaction and demeanor can bring hope and comfort, or it can lead to anxiety and hopelessness for the child.
Much the same applies to the way parents react when they discover their son has been abused and seek further information from him. The questions may sound blaming, particularly if the parent asks things like, “Why were you there in the first place?”, "Why did you go back?", "Why didn't you run?", “Why didn’t you tell us right away?”, or "Why didn't you say no?" Questions or statements that imply the child is now damaged for life, or going to become a perpetrator himself, are not helpful.
Depending on the state reporting laws, child protective services (CPS) may have to be called. This can be a difficult situation for the parent. The CPS worker may be skilled and reassuring, or s/he may be inexperienced and clumsy. In any event, the investigation and subsequent actions by the CPS agency may take the matter completely out of the parent’s control.
Reporting laws on child abuse (including sexual abuse) vary from state to state. Child abuse may have to involve a family member or caretaker for CPS to investigate. Generally, just about all municipal police departments will take a complaint about abuse of a child, but CPS does not necessarily have to respond to the complaint, depending on the state’s laws. In other words, the CPS agency may decline to investigate a reported case if it does not meet their mandate, such as being perpetrated by a household member or someone with caretaking powers over the child. It is, however, almost always a criminal matter for the police to investigate.
As a former CPS worker, I know it is a difficult job balancing the dual (and sometimes conflicting) mandates of protecting children and preserving families. Obviously, the need to protect the child must come first if there is a conflict between the two missions. It is also very easy to bash CPS workers and their agencies. They may be lax in their efforts to protect children or they may overreact, break up families and place children in foster care or residential treatment facilities just “to be on the safe side”, when in fact such action may not be necessary.
Not too long ago, I worked with a man who was removed from his home because he had touched the inner thigh of his teenaged stepdaughter. This was disclosed right after it occurred, but the CPS worker and supervisor did not require him to move out. He actually remained in the home and no further abuse took place (this was confirmed by polygraph and interview with the victim). But about four years later, when the case was transferred to another worker in the same office, the new caseworker and supervisor decided he might be a risk to his biological daughter, who was now the same age as the stepdaughter victim was when he touched her. The man was told to leave, and for the next several years he was not permitted to stay overnight or have unsupervised contact with the biological daughter despite her statements that he never touched her. It was also confirmed by the polygraph that he did nothing sexual to her. Although the biological daughter, victim/stepdaughter, and mother all wanted him home, the CPS agency kept him out and said he posed a risk to this girl and her friends until she turned eighteen.
The point here is that the CPS agency possibly under-reacted with the case of the stepdaughter and over-reacted with the biological daughter. It is not all that uncommon for caseworkers and supervisors within the same office to respond to a situation in very different ways. So how a case is handled may depend on skills and knowledge of the staff or even be influenced by the political climate at the time. However, as a parent or reporter of child abuse, you really have no control over the way an investigation and placement decisions are handled. While that may sound pessimistic, CPS workers are better trained now than in the past and they will hopefully deal with the situation in an appropriate manner.
Most state child abuse reporting laws require that anyone with knowledge or suspicion that a child is being abused or neglected report this to the local CPS agency. Some states take a broad view about the relationship between the abuser and the victim and will take a report on a case of a child abused by someone outside of the home. Other states require that the child be under the supervision or living in the home of the abuser before they accept the case.
What the parent can do is to be supportive and reassuring to the child who has been abused.
· Be careful of your reaction to the news. If you “freak out”, you may be giving the child the message that he is “damaged goods”. Sexual abuse is not what any parent would want for his or her child, but it is not the end of the world.
· Be supportive. Saying things like, “It was not your fault” is useful since children tend to blame themselves when something goes wrong. Letting the child know that this happens to other children and that he is not the only one is important.
· Try not to make statements or ask questions that imply blame for the child’s decision-making. Saying things like, “Why did you go over there?” or “How come you didn’t tell us right away?” can only make the child feel worse and there is probably no “right” answer he can give you at this point.
· Let him know he did the right thing by bringing it to your attention (or confirming what happened if he told someone else).
· Answer the child’s questions as best you can. If he asks what will happen to the abuser, you will probably need to refer to the district attorney or prosecutor’s office. (Most prosecutor offices have investigators and attorneys who specialize in sexual and child abuse cases so this person is likely experienced can work with your child and answer his questions.)
· Find a therapist with considerable experience in sexual abuse who can at least assess the need for treatment. (See “A Consumer’s Guide to Choosing a Therapist” in the appendix.)
· Be aware that your child may withdraw the accusation. This is called “recantation” in legal terms. What it means is that the child may have second thoughts and wants to retract his statement. This can come about from realization of consequences to himself, his family or the perpetrator, or from fear or discomfort of the process he is going through. That is, he may believe that if he says it never happened, life will return to normal.
If you are reading this and it is past the initial disclosure and possible CPS investigation, are there things you could do differently at this stage? Child victims and adult survivors generally know that sexual abuse is bad. They likely feel emotionally and sometimes physically damaged by the abuse. They probably will be sensitive to any perceived criticism and already have been blaming themselves for “allowing” the abuse to take place, not stopping the perpetrator, “failing” to report it, or “putting themselves in the situation again” if they returned after the first assault.
In other words, the victim or survivor is almost certainly beating himself up for the abuse. It doesn’t help when a parent, partner or other potentially supportive person asks what feel like victim-blaming questions or makes statements implying that he could or should have done something different.
One of the major problems for many survivors and child victims is the confusion about the body’s response to abuse. Any boy’s penis will usually become erect if it is stimulated, and sometimes he will experience orgasm or ejaculation even though he does not want the abuser’s attention and doesn’t understand what is happening to him. An abused boy will seldom raise his concerns about this; his feelings of shame and guilt will simply be too overwhelming. But parents can be of great help here if they take advantage of any opportunity to reassure him that erections, orgasm and ejaculation only mean that his “equipment” is in good working order – nothing more. Remember that the perpetrator may used your son’s physical response to make him believe he wanted the abuse or is gay.
As one survivor wrote:
That was a huge burden for me as a boy, especially since the abuser made a point of using those points against me. I felt like my body didn't belong to me anymore; it was listening to him and not to me. There was no “me” anymore, just an empty shell good for nothing except what the abuser wanted. I was so confused and guilty. How could I have talked about that? Where would I even start?
Support and encouragement are better than advice, particularly when it is of the “get over it” variety. This is akin to the comment some will say when a woman has lost a pregnancy through miscarriage. “You’re young, you can always try again” may sound helpful, but does any grieving parent want to hear that advice?
For the adult, the best thing you may be able to say is, “I’m so sorry to hear about that. Is there anything I can do for you?” To the child victim, one can say, “This was a terrible thing to happen. I will help you get past this and will be here for you.” Telling the child or survivor that you love him also helps. Reminding him that it was not his fault cannot be said enough.
Although the child or adult may reassure you that he is alright, it doesn’t hurt to ask once in a while how he is doing and is there anything you can do to help. Be prepared to hear a denial of any problems. Keeping an eye on moods, behaviors and other indicators will be useful, especially if you pass that information on to the therapist. Some child victims will react to the abuse through mood changes. He may become easily aggravated, frustrated, sad, angry, or just plain moody. Behavioral changes may include aggression towards others, cruelty to animals, bedwetting, clinging, or reverting to immature patterns that he outgrew. If he displays any of these or other new behaviors or emotional states, be sure to bring him to a qualified therapist.
Should You Force a Child into Treatment?
Many abused children do not want to talk about the abuse after it is discovered. By the time the child has gone through CPS and/or the legal system, he may have told his story numerous times and tell you he is tired of talking about it. Although you may tell him that being in therapy is the best thing for him, he may fight you on this.
I have mixed feelings about making a child victim go to therapy when he doesn’t want to. In some ways, it is like making a child go to the dentist or accept medical treatment that he doesn’t want. If an eight-year-old tells you he doesn’t want to go for a series of painful rabies shots when he has been in contact with a possibly rabid animal, should you force him? Most people would say he should get the shots because the consequence for untreated rabies is usually death. Painful shots are a small price to pay for preventing death, most would argue. And children cannot see the “big picture” and anticipate consequences that may happen in the future.
Sexual abuse is not the equivalent of a death sentence from rabies. It might be closer to going to the dentist. Yes, the intervention may be painful but the long-term effects of not treating the decay may be further pain and loss of teeth. With some children, arguing about the long-term consequences may be futile and the parent may just have to use the parental authority of “Because I said so”.
On the other hand, the abused child may be resilient and not need therapy for what happened to him. Wouldn’t forcing him to do something he does not want to do be a further “victimization”? Some would say that the consequences are not fatal, and he is being forced again to do something he doesn’t want. After all, the abuse was something he didn’t want to do, so does making him go to therapy put him in a similar position of having to do something against his will? If his experience with therapy at age eight is unpleasant or even traumatizing, he will be less likely to want to return to treatment years later if more serious symptoms emerge.
So, we have the dilemma of “do this for your own good” versus “you shouldn’t be forced to do something you don’t want to do”.
My solution as a therapist, is to say to the child, “Come see me three times and you decide after the third visit whether you want to come back again. I will support your decision with your parents, but if I truly believe that it is very important that you continue with me or someone else, I’ll talk that over with you.” This gives me the opportunity to assess how he might be affected by the abuse instead of fighting about being in therapy. It also puts some degree of control in the child’s hands, as well as the understanding that he will only have to come three more times unless he wants to continue or I have strong feelings that he needs to address the issues in therapy.
In my experience, most kids who agree to three sessions will come back for additional sessions if necessary. If they don’t, my sense is that their experience with therapy will not be seen as dreadful and they will probably feel more comfortable in the future should problems arise and they need to get back into treatment. I’m hard pressed to recall any abused children who didn’t want to remain in therapy when I strongly felt they should.
It can be useful to ask the therapist how s/he deals with the child who doesn’t want to be in therapy if your child is unwilling to go. It is also helpful to give him the same three-session option, but you should let the therapist know this so you are working together.
It may be that the first therapist you bring an abused child to is not the best match for that child. While the therapist may be skilled and knowledgeable in sexual abuse issues, s/he may not have a good rapport with every child. Or the therapist may be engaging and pleasant with the child but not know much about sexual abuse, so that the child likes to see the therapist but there is little going on to deal with the abuse. Just as it might be useful to go with the “three session” arrangement, it may also be helpful to ask the child to try another therapist if there is not a good match with the first one.
Adolescents initially tend to be less verbal and more guarded in their thoughts and feelings. Sometimes I find it helpful to let the adolescent male know what some of the symptoms and concerns are for teens who were abused. Rather than asking what is going on, if they don’t volunteer such information, it may more productive to give them a “shopping list” of issues that are common with this population. The child may be better able to acknowledge something that you said, rather than to disclose it himself.
For example, when I tell a child that many children who have had the same kind of experience worry that others are able to tell that he had been abused, or that many children believe that it is somehow their fault for the abuse, or that most kids try to forget about what happened but it just seems to keep coming back, they are often relieved that they are not the only one who has had these concerns. However, talking about sexual abuse with a parent can be a lot more difficult for a child or teen than it is to talk with a professional he doesn’t have to live with. Think about how difficult it was for you to talk about sexual matters with a parent when you were a child or teen.
When the Abuser is a Sibling
This situation can be quite upsetting for a parent. As bad as it is to discover that one of your children has been sexually abused (or has abused another child), imagine what it must be like to be not only the parent of a victim or perpetrator, but also the parent of both!
Parents are often torn about whom to believe when there is a discrepancy between the stories of both children. Since there is generally no witness to what happened, it is a case of one of them lying or withholding information. The conventional wisdom is that victims of sexual abuse don’t lie. Generally, that is the case. Unless there is some compelling reason for the “alleged” victim to lie, it makes more sense to assume that the “alleged” perpetrator has more reasons to deny the allegations.
Sometimes a child may lie about the abuse in an attempt to manipulate where s/he is living. It can occur in custody cases where the non-custodial parent wants the child to lie so s/he can obtain custody or deny visitation to the other parent. These are complicated cases that generally wind up in family court and require experienced evaluators to determine the truth of the situation.
When assessing an alleged perpetrator in this kind of situation, I listen for his analysis of why the victim would say such a thing about him. Often the youth who is lying presents his victim as a manipulative person who chooses this allegation to get back for something else the perpetrator did, such as breaking or losing some possession of the victim. He might try to portray the victim as getting back at him for something the perpetrator said about the victim. The young perpetrator who is lying frequently tries to build a larger case of real or imaginary misdeeds the victim has committed in order to give the impression that the allegation of sexual abuse is just another in a long line of indiscretions and fabrications.
My response to this defense is to ask how else the victim could get back at him besides making up this story. If the perpetrator can point out other choices the victim could have made, I ask, “Why use this complaint when it is so potentially damaging? Why pick sexual abuse when it could result in embarrassing statements to parents, police, medical people, etc?” These questions are also applicable if the accused perpetrator cannot come up with any explanation.
If the person is still in denial about doing what he was accused of, I explore the hypothetical with him. “If this were really true, what do you think would happen?,” I will ask him. This is important to explore the possible reasons for his denial and barriers to telling the truth. What would happen to him from a legal perspective? He may be fearful that he would be sent away to a foster home or institution. He may be afraid that he will have to go to juvenile court and be put on probation or worse. He may be fearful that he will be exposed in the newspapers or at his school as a sexual predator.
From the standpoint of his relationships with family and friends, I ask him what he thinks will change, or what consequences he would face if this were true. Will his parents still love and support him? Will all the relatives have to find out about what he did? Will his friends find out and leave him? Often, the alleged perpetrator is fearful of many consequences that may not actually occur. By analyzing the possible outcomes and assuring him that juvenile courts are more interested in rehabilitation than punishment, the youth generally finds it easier to admit what he did.
Many years ago, I was interviewing an adolescent accused of molesting a cousin. He was living with his grandmother who took him in when his own mother couldn’t care for him due to a drug problem. He molested a visiting younger cousin, and despite a credible statement from the cousin, he continued to deny the abuse. Asked the hypothetical question of what would happen if his grandmother believed he did this, he tearfully replied that she would have him leave and he would never see his family again. I asked the grandmother back into the room and put that question to her. She unequivocally stated she would continue to love and support him and find him the help he needed. This gave the young man the way out of his dilemma and he admitted to us what he had done to his cousin.
I have used this question many times and found that it provides a means for the youth to admit and begin the treatment process. And when victims no longer doubt whether they are believed, it helps their healing process as well.
Protecting the Story
Some perpetrators have invested so much time and energy into a particular version of what they did that they have to “protect” the story because changing it might brand them as a liar. Even when their story defies logic or sounds impossible, they often have a greater fear of being called a liar than facing the consequences of what they did. Again, assuring them that it is understandable why they would want to deny what they were accused of and that they will still be loved and supported can help remove some of the barriers to becoming honest.
What about his friends? Would they be told or somehow find out? Many adolescents are unaware that juvenile matters are held confidential and that information will not be not shared with his friends or family beyond the parents. (However, under Megan’s Law provisions in many states, school personnel may be informed about an adolescent who has been found guilty of a sexual offense and is attending the school. It is also unclear at this writing what the impact will be for adolescent offenders on Internet sex offender registration under the Walsh Act of 2005.)
His friends and extended family members need not be informed of his “hypothetical” offense, although his contact with potential victims in the family, such as cousins, will need to be restricted or monitored until treatment providers are sure he can be trusted. Most abusers in sex offense-specific treatment will be told what they can and can’t do, particularly around known or potential victims. This safety plan, in the case of an adolescent abuser, will likely include line-of-sight supervision at all times when other children are present at family gatherings, for example.
Another concern that may help keep an adolescent in denial is the fear of loss of trust and imposition of restrictions, such as a reduction of privacy, particularly with other children. It is a common safety measure to ban any closed-door situations with younger or vulnerable children for sexually abusive youth. Video games or computer activities may be restricted to an open area of the home and times when an adult is present.
The youth, and sometimes the parents, feel pressure to deny what may have occurred due to concerns about community notification or registration as a sex offender. Families may conspire to keep the abuse a family secret because of the possible involvement with the legal system and Megan’s Law conditions in their state. I have seen a number of situations over the years where an allegation is made within the family and some safety measures may be put in place for a while, only to find out later that the same victim or another child in the family is being victimized or re-victimized because they failed to involve the legal system.
This is an especially demoralizing situation for the victim. Short of being discounted and disbelieved in the first place, it is very disheartening for a child to be assured by the parent that the abuse will stop and he will be protected, only to experience a resumption of the abuse. Unfortunately, for some parents the dilemma of whether to keep the abuse a family secret or bring in the authorities is a difficult decision.
Many states have child abuse reporting provisions that can impose a penalty on anyone with suspicion or knowledge of child abuse if they do not contact the appropriate authorities. However, in my experience this is almost never enforced. So, some well-meaning parents will keep the abuse secret to “protect” the abuser or the family’s reputation. While this maintains a certain amount of control, which they would not have once the authorities are notified, it is not a healthy situation for the family and the victim and may cut off potential resources for treatment. Be aware that therapists are mandated to report any child abuse situations so you really can’t ask a therapist to keep the abuse a secret or treat it as a confidential matter.
An untreated abuser is potentially a repeat abuser, either with the same victim or additional ones. A victim who discloses may feel ignored or invalidated if nothing is done. In some instances, the victim may experience undeserved and unwanted power to blow the family apart if he tells somebody. That responsibility may cause a child to recant or claim the abuse never happened. Recantation or withdrawal of the allegations is a common occurrence in child sexual abuse situations and should not be seen as proof that the abuse did not take place. Neither situation provides any guarantees for the family. It is unrealistic to expect a parent to provide 24-hour, seven-day-a-week constant surveillance of their children to be sure nothing else happens. Unless the parent physically handcuffs the child to him/her, there is no way that a parent will keep that child in sight throughout the day and night. Parents sleep and use the bathroom, run errands and cannot provide constant supervision, despite the best of intentions.
A young man whom I treated a few years ago had molested two of his younger siblings in the home and even in the car while the family drove somewhere. After the abuse was disclosed, the parents installed a laser beam security system on the stairs leading to the boy’s bedroom and had one of the victims, a mentally handicapped little girl, wear a bracelet with bells they could hear when she moved around. They were vigilant and had a team of four adult relatives living in the home; these were responsible to monitor the boy and his siblings when the parents were out of the house at work or shopping.
The plan sounded foolproof until I gave the boy an assignment to figure out how to beat the system. He found gaps in the security and identified several ways he could molest a sibling undetected. Asked how long it would take for him to commit a sexual act on one of his siblings, he replied, “Just seconds”. He explained to me that he could simply walk by a sibling and “accidentally” touch him or her without being detected. While a brief touch on the buttocks or crotch area doesn’t sound like a significant sexual act, for him it was a “sexual hit” that he could use to masturbate with later on.
When the abuser is an adult – a parent, stepparent, relative, or family friend – the consequences and denial may be more significant. The adult who lives with the child will likely be removed from the home as well as probably be arrested. The stakes for the adult accused of sexual abuse of a child are quite high these days. Although newspapers do not print the names of crime victims, especially for sexual assault, it is not unusual to see something like, “John Smith, 34, of Market Street in Oldham, was arrested for sexual assault on a boy under the age of 13.” People familiar with Mr. Smith may be aware that he has a ten-year-old stepson and can draw their own conclusions.
This can lead to stigmatization for the family and the victim, adding more pressure for the victim to keep silent. Even without publicity on the disclosure, the family will probably undergo some changes, such as having the alleged offender removed from the home, added expenses of finding another place to live, and months or years of intervention by CPS, police, court, probation/parole, and therapists. Again, regardless of whether or not the victim knows all of this at the time, he may feel responsible for the changes to the family and any hardships that may result. The non-abusing parent(s) may have doubts of the child’s statements, particularly when the accused abuser is denying the allegations, and this too will compound the difficulties that the child is already experiencing.
It is generally to be expected that the accused person will minimize or downplay aspects of the abuse. He may minimize the extent of what he did or how many times he did it to the victim. He may portray himself as the victim or try to convince others that the younger child was consenting, seductive, or somehow initiated the abuse. These kinds of defenses by the abuser are predictable prior to treatment and even during the early stages of treatment.
What may be counter-intuitive is that victims also often minimize. Most victims are very embarrassed to talk about the sexual aspects of the abuse. Children, especially younger children, generally don’t know the terminology that teenagers and adults have, and body processes such as erection and ejaculation are confusing and possibly not part of their experience. They may also be very embarrassed to acknowledge oral sex and attempted versus actual penetration. Sometimes the victim may deny aspects of the abuse even when the perpetrator admits it. I have seen adolescent perpetrators pass polygraph exams admitting to performing oral sex on the victim, for example, while the victim still insists it never took place.
Parents may be curious to find out the details of what took place between their children. It is not at all uncommon for parents, upon hearing the initial allegation, to seek details from the victim and then confront the accused. This can be a very uncomfortable situation for either child.
While the younger child may not have the vocabulary to describe what happened, or be accurate in terms of numbers and dates (remember the child’s sense of time and numbers may be quite inaccurate), they are generally correct in details of events, particularly when the de>