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What if it's too late to react the way I should?

Parents of sibling sexual trauma are often reminded of the importance of reacting appropriately when a child discloses sibling sexual trauma. But there's one big problem with that information--it almost always comes too late. It may be too late to change the look on your face or the first words out of your mouth, but it’s still possible to benefit from guidance on where to go from here. Some parents don’t find any information on what they should have done until months or years have passed. At that point, reading a list of how parents should react just brings feelings of guilt and regret.

If that is your experience, it’s time for a reality check.

  • You are not alone wishing you had handled your child’s disclosure differently.

  • No parent is prepared to hear the news that one of their children has sexually violated another.  

  • Hearing the news of your child’s sexual violation is itself a trauma. Not only were you most likely unprepared for it, the news itself short-circuited your brain and affected your response.  

 

So, if you can’t change your past response, what can you do now to cope and move on?

  • Allow yourself the grace to be human. Imagine how you would comfort another parent who feels bad about how they reacted to their child’s disclosure, and repeat that to yourself.

  • Find someone--a friend you trust with the story, a therapist, the RAINN.org hotline, a parents’ support group--to share your story and your feelings about how you have reacted so far.

  • If part of your reaction was related to your own past sexual trauma, seek help and healing for that.  

  • Do not expect your child to support or even offer forgiveness or understanding for any missteps in your reactions so far. Lean on outside sources of support to work through your own issues and feelings.  

  • Focus on how to accept and support your child going forward. Expect that you may become a target for blame and shame, at least temporarily, whether or not the guilt is deserved or rational.

  • If you said or did things that you now realize were hurtful to your child, craft an apology to give your child. If you include reasons you feel you reacted the way you did, keep them in the background; the focus of an effective apology should be on your remorse for the harm and your intention to do better in the future.  

Caution: Many resources for parents of children who have been sexually abused are not written with sibling sexual trauma in mind. They often assume the person who offended was an adult or someone outside the family. Some of the content might be inappropriate for situations in which where your child or teen caused the trauma. There are important differences between children or teens who cause sexual harm and habitual adult offenders. It is appropriate for you to continue to love, support, and be concerned for the welfare of all your children.  Continue to explore this site for information specific to sibling sexual trauma.