Kathryn Stamoulis Ph.D.

The New Teen Age

What to Do When She Says #MeToo

6 do's and dont's if your daughter confides in you about past sexual abuse.

Posted Dec 07, 2018

Most parents want their children to confide in them about their problems. Unfortunately, if you have a daughter, there is a real possibility that one such problem may be that of sexual harassment or violence. A study from Harvard University found 87% of girls have experienced sexual harassment and the CDC reports nearly one in three women have experienced some form of sexual violence victimization. Being a victim of sexual violence or harassment is one of the biggest problems that a teenager can face and, correspondingly, it can be one of the most difficult problems them to talk about. Even if a parent and child have a close and trusting relationship, teens may have compelling reasons for not disclosing.

However, the rise of the “#MeToo” movement has inspired more and more people to share their personal past experiences with sexual wrongdoings. These revelations may be sparked by current events, celebrity revelations or even political debates. During the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, which further amplified the voice of the MeToo movement, Fox News Host Chris Wallace shared a personal story regarding his daughters. While discussing the controversy surrounding the Brett Kavanaugh sexual assault allegations with his family, two of his adult daughters told him what he described as “stories that I had never heard about things that happened to them in high school.” As a parent, Wallace is not alone in this experience.

So what should a parent do when their daughter says “Me Too?” Here are six do’s and don’t’s to consider if your child informs you that they were a victim of sexual wrongdoing:

(Please note that the below advice assumes your daughter is currently safe. If your daughter is in imminent danger contact the police or seek medical care if needed.)

1. Don’t freak out: Your daughter is telling you something very personal, perhaps something she has long kept secret, therefore it’s important the only emotions she needs to manage in the moment are her own. Once the initial conversation is over, feel free to freak out behind closed doors.

2. Don’t press for details: Victims who experienced childhood trauma or sexual abuse tend to have greater difficulty disclosing the specifics of such trauma to another person. Your daughter may pause or jump around when telling you her story. Resist the urge to press for more details. Many people don’t initially reveal every detail of a trauma because they are testing the waters to see if the listener can be trusted with the full story.

3. Don’t blame her: Research has demonstrated the tendency to blame the victim and exonerate the perpetrator in cases of sexual assault. Fear of being blamed is one of the most cited reasons people don’t report sexual harassment or assault and this fear may be why your daughter didn’t come to you immediately after the event. This trepidation may be intensified if she broke a rule (e.g. was drinking at a party) during the occurrence of the assault. It is thus imperative to keep the focus on her lack of consent and if she says she’s ashamed or starts to blame herself, reiterate sexual harassment or assault is only the fault of the perpetrator. If you feel the need to address the rule-breaking, do so at another time.

4. Do thank her for sharing: Let your daughter know that she is loved and that you appreciate her sharing her story with you. If she feels supported, it is more likely she will come to you in the future.

5. Do keep the conversations going: It can be hurtful to disclose something personal and then never have it brought up again. Check in with your daughter the day after your talk, and at future dates. Ask her how she is feeling about things and, if needed, provide her with resources that could be helpful (like the number to a counselor). Even if she doesn’t want to talk at that moment, she will know you are there to listen if she wants to discuss it in the future.

6. Do get help if you need it: You may be upset or feel guilty that your daughter didn’t come to you immediately after her distressing experience. If you are struggling with your emotions, or her story is reminding you of upsetting experiences from your past, reach out to a mental health professional for help.

Many people have difficulty discussing sexual harassment and abuse. Don't worry if the conversation doesn't go perfectly—the most important thing is that your daughter has your support. For more assistance or information, contact a mental health professional or visit RAINN.org.

References

Bedard-Gilligan, M., Jaeger, J., Echiverri-Cohen, A., & Zoellner, L. A. (2011). Individual differences in trauma disclosure. Journal of behavior therapy and experimental psychiatry, 43(2), 716-23.

Bieneck, S., & Krahé, B. (2011). Blaming the Victim and Exonerating the Perpetrator in Cases of Rape and Robbery: Is There a Double Standard? Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 26(9), 1785–1797. 

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