Information and resources for parents or carers of a survivor

It can be extremely difficult to hear that your child has been abused or sexual assaulted, and you may feel a lot of different emotions as result – anger, shame and guilt are common.

If your child is telling you that they have been hurt by someone else, even if it’s someone you trust completely, the most important things you can do are:

  • Listen to them.
  • Believe them.
  • Continue to offer unconditional support and love.
  • Be patient with them.
  • Encourage them.
  • Reassure them that their feelings are normal.
  • Give them choices.

It is also really important that you look after yourself at this time. Supporting a loved one who has experienced sexual violence can bring up a lot of complex feelings for you as well. It’s important that you take note of these and have a safe space where you are able to express them.

Getting support

Our helpline, email and live chat support services offer confidential emotional support for women and girls who are supporting a female survivor.

The Rape Crisis England and Wales 24/7 Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Line offers emotional support for anyone aged 16+ in England and Wales who is supporting a survivor of sexual violence.

Safeline runs the National Male Survivor Helpline which offers emotional support for men who are supporting a survivor. MOSAC provides supportive services for non-abusing parents and carers whose children have been sexually abused.

We also offer counselling for mothers and non-binary parents/carers of survivors, to give you the time and peace needed to think and talk things through with an experienced counsellor. Fathers and male carers can access therapeutic support via our partner centre, Peterborough Rape Crisis Care Group.

Family and friends guide

This guide is for family and friends supporting a person who has been raped or sexually assaulted, recently or in the past.

Information and contacts

Frequently Asked Questions

Yes, absolutely. Knowing that something so traumatising has happened to your child can be extremely upsetting and difficult to manage. Make sure you look after yourself and get the support you need from trusted family, friends and professionals.

Our helpline, email and live chat support services are here for you. We also offer counselling for mothers and non-binary parents/carers of survivors. Fathers and male carers can access therapeutic support via our partner centre, Peterborough Rape Crisis Care Group.

Whatever you are feeling is completely normal. There is no right or wrong way to respond. Be kind to yourself.

Common feelings for parents/carers include:

Guilt – you may be feeling guilty for not realising sooner, for bringing the abuser into your child’s life or simply for trusting the abuser. You have nothing to feel guilty for. Abusers will deliberately work to gain the trust of everyone around that child and will cover up what is happening however they can.

Anger – you may be feeling angry with the abuser, with yourself or even with your child for not telling you sooner. These are all very normal feelings but it’s important to remember that the only person who has done something wrong is the abuser. If can be helpful to talk through these feelings with someone trusted and/or and organisation such as ourselves.

Loss – very often it is someone trusted and even loved who perpetrates these crimes and the loss of that person from your life can be a very difficult and complex things to deal with. It can bring up a lot of mixed feelings and, again, if can be helpful to acknowledge these feelings and talk them through.

Things may feel different and knowing something so traumatising has happened to your child can be devastating and hard to cope with. Things might not be the same as they were before but, with the right support, healing is possible.

When something bad happens it is normal for us to try and rationalise it by thinking about what we could have done to stop it. However, the perpetrator is the only one who should and could have done something differently. You and your child are not to blame for the abuser’s actions.

Perpetrators of sexual violence are very manipulative and don’t just groom the survivor, but will groom families and even whole communities into trusting them so that they are able to sexually abuse.

The perpetrator made the decision to lie, manipulate and abuse.. The betrayal of trust can be immensely painful but the fault lies only with the perpetrator.

Grooming is when someone builds or uses an existing connection with a child to gain or exploit their trust for the purposes of sexual abuse, sexual exploitation or trafficking.

Children and young people can be groomed in-person or online, by a stranger or by someone they know, for example, a family member, friend or person in a position of trust.

Many children and young people don’t understand that they have been groomed or that what has happened is abuse.

You can find out more via the NSPCC’s website.

No, it is a myth that people who have been abused become abusers themselves.

This myth is often used to try and excuse those who perpetrate sexual violence and abuse.

If you think about it, the majority of survivors are women and girls and the majority of perpetrators are men and boys, so this just wouldn’t make sense.

Around a third of people who abuse a child are under 18 themselves and, in much younger children especially, they might not realise that their behaviour is harmful to others.

It can make it hard to know how to react and that’s okay as it’s outside the realm of what we would expect. It is still very serious and should be treated as such.

The abuser will often convince the child that they won’t be believed or that they are somehow responsible for the abuse and will be punished for it.

The child may care about or feel protective of the person who sexually abused them, for example, it may be a parent or other close family and they may feel they’d be betraying this person by telling.

They may also be told that if they tell the non-abusing parent/carer it will ruin their life in some way or destroy the family. Children will often keep quiet to protect the non-abusive parent/carer.

Sometimes a child may be confused if they experienced positive physical pleasure, arousal or emotional intimacy from the abuse. This confusion can make it difficult for the child to speak up.

A child may feel they permitted the abuse and should have been able to stop it. Remember that there are no situations where a child is responsible for any sexual interaction with a more powerful child or adult.

Abusers will often use a combination of gifts or treats and threats about what will happen if the child says ‘no’ or tells someone.

They may scare the child with threats of being hurt physically but much more often the threat is what will be lost if they tell someone e.g. the family breaking up or someone going to prison.

To stop the child from telling anyone, the abuser will use the child’s fear, embarrassment or guilt about what is happening, often convincing them that no-one will believe them or that the child will be punished.

Sometimes the abuser will tell the child that they enjoyed it and wanted it to happen, and this can be very confusing and upsetting.

Any reason an abuser gives for abusing a child is merely a justification.

The real people abuse children is because they have the power, control and have created the opportunity to abuse.

It is very normal to want to ask the abused why they did what they did but it is very unlikely that any answer you receive will be either honest or helpful.

The NSPCC suggest some signs of sexual abuse that you might notice.

Children who are sexually abused may:

Stay away from certain people

  • They might avoid being alone with people, such as family members or friends.
  • They could seem frightened of a person or reluctant to socialise with them.

A child might become sexually active at a young age

  • They may show sexual behaviour that’s inappropriate for their age.
  • They might be promiscous.
  • They could use sexual language or know information that you wouldn’t expect.

Have physical symptoms

  • Vaginal or anal soreness
  • Unusual discharge
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)