When a Child Comes to You

Few of us expect much less anticipate a child approaching us and disclosing he/she is being sexually abused. We must remember that most children simply don’t have the language to describe what is happening to them and they are heavily burdened by a deep sense of guilt, shame and fear. These are three extremely powerful feelings that have been instilled in them by the perpetrator in attempt to gain the child’s silence and protection. For a child to move beyond them is a show of great courage and trust. This trust must never be ignored, invalidated, excused or questioned. When a child comes to you, YOU automatically become the child’s advocate. It is your responsibility to listen, gather as much information regarding who, what, when, where and how and then report the incident to law enforcement or child protective services or visit the National Children’s Alliance at www.nationalchildrensalliance.org or call 1.800.239.9950. Listed below are a few guidelines as published by D2L.org a child advocacy organization dedicated to educating the public regarding this issue:


Know the signs of abuse (physical & emotional) to protect children from further harm. Detail of signs listed online at D2L.org.


Understand how to respond to risky behaviors and suspicions or reports of abuse. There are 3 reasons we need to react to sexual abuse:

  • A child discloses it to us
  • We discover it ourselves
  • We have reason to suspect it


A child has broken through secrecy, fear and shame and has chosen you as the person he or she trusts enough to tell. Honor that with attention, compassion and belief.

  • Listen calmly and openly
  • Don’t fill in the gaps, or rush to “get to the bottom of it”
  • Don’t ask leading questions about details
  • Ask only open ended questions like, “What happened next?” or say, “It’s OK to tell me more.”

Remember, few reported incidents are false. It is NOT your responsibility to make this determination.


You’ve witnessed a sexually abusive act by an adult or youth with a child or you know by some other way that abuse has taken place. For example, a friend or coworker may have told you something definitive.


Report immediately to local law enforcement; child protective services or contact National Children’s Alliance or call 1.800.239.9950.

  • Tell the child’s name and where the child lives
  • Tell the facts. This may include what the child has told, or behaviors from the alleged offender that you saw.
  • Tell what signs you’ve seen in the child
  • Tell what access the alleged offender has to the child


People who offend are rarely seen in the act of sexually abusing a child, but they are often seen breaking rules and pressing boundaries.

Bystander Intervention

  • A bystander is a person who witnesses a boundary violation or sees a situation in which a child is vulnerable.
  • Describe the inappropriate behavior or the boundary violation to the person who has crossed it. “It looks like you’re forcing Chloe to kiss and hug. She looks uncomfortable.”
  • Set a limit with the person who has crossed the boundary. “Please stop. We let Chloe decide who she wants to show affection to.”
  • Move on: “Chloe, let’s go see what the other children are up to.”

If there is a pattern of boundary violations or you’ve intervened and boundary violations continue, you may have reasonable suspicion.

Make a report to the police or child protective services.