If Your Child Has Been Abused
How can I tell if my child has been abused?
This is a question for all parents to ask since children are often frightened to tell of their abuse, especially if the perpetrator is someone they know, such as a family member or friend. Unexplained bruises or injuries, expressions of anxiety and/or changes in behaviour may alert you to abuse. Indicators include:
- Sleep disturbances (e.g. nightmares, fear of going to bed, bed wetting).
- Appetite changes
- Regression (behaving as a younger child)
- Fears of certain people, places or contact with people
- Depression and sadness
For a more detailed list, please go to Signs of Abuse.
What should I do if my child tells me that he or she has been abused?
First, stay calm. Feelings of anger, betrayal and anguish are, of course, normal. However, it is vital that your child does not feel these emotions are directed toward him or her. In many cases, abuse perpetrators intimidate and threaten children to keep the abuse secret. So when your child tells you, she or he needs to be reassured that it was right to speak out. Comfort and listen to your child. Don’t probe for details. For more information on talking with your child, please go to If a Child Tells You About Abuse.
Call for assistance immediately. Alberta’s Child Abuse Hotline is 1–800-387–5437. The protection of your child is the utmost priority. The authorities can take the necessary action to protect your child and get you the help you need to take the next steps. In Alberta, you are legally bound to report all suspected cases of child abuse.
Don’t confront the accused yourself. Doing so can be dangerous for you and your child, and it may also jeopardize any investigation or court case that might arise.
Why did my child not tell me right away about the abuse?
“Children want to tell about their abuse so that it can be stopped, but they are often afraid that they will not be believed or protected or they are afraid of what might happen if they do tell. It is normal for children to delay telling about their abuse for a year or longer after it occurs. They may talk about the abuse more readily if another victim discloses abuse by the same offender or if they are asked direct questions about the possibility of abuse.” (Source: Health Canada).
Your support and assurance to the child that he or she is believed is vital to the process of revealing the truth.
If my child at first denies abuse or later recants, does this mean the abuse didn’t happen?
No. Disclosure is very difficult for a child especially since offenders often intimidate and threaten their victims. When the offender is someone close and/or in a position of trust, the betrayal can also be terribly confusing to the child.
A study of 360 cases from 1985 to 1989 determined that, among confirmed sexual abuse cases, 79% of children initially denied sexual abuse or were tentative in disclosing. One quarter of these children disclosed inadvertently. 22% of the disclosures were recanted at one point. Child Sexual Abuse Statistics, posted on: www.prevent-abuse-now.com/stats/html.
Health Canada reports that false denials of sexual abuse and recanting a disclosure of abuse are much more common that false reports.
What happens when I call the authorities?
Make it clear that you are reporting child abuse so that your call can be referred to the appropriate authorities. After your call, there will be an initial investigation launched by the police and children’s services. These investigators are specially trained to collect evidence and determine what happened. If there is sufficient evidence, criminal charges may be laid. Whether or not charges are laid, children’s services can assist you to protect the child.
What happens when charges are laid?
When charges are laid, the accused will have the option to plead guilty or not guilty. If the accused pleads guilty, the court will review the case and decide on a sentence. If the accused pleads not guilty, there will be a trial. It is possible that the person who reported the abuse incident will be required to testify at the trial.
In some cases, a preliminary inquiry will be held before the trial. At this hearing, the judge will examine the case and decide if there is enough evidence to proceed with the trial. The child and other witnesses may have to testify at this hearing.
What if the alleged offender is under 18?
If the accused is a young person over 12 years of age but under 18, then the case will be dealt with under the rules of the Young Offenders Act. This law holds young people responsible for their actions but provides special procedures and different punishments. If a trial is necessary, it is usually held in youth court. (Department of Justice Canada )