Safe Place: The Center for Child Protection and Health

A Guide to Support Sexual Assault/Abuse Survivors

Guide to child reactions and parent responses to child sexual abuse/assault

If you are the parent or guardian of a child who is a victim of sexual abuse/assault, you may find the following suggested responses to common reactions helpful.

Child Reaction to sexual abuse/assault Parent/Guardian Response
A child may not want to separate from you and may need constant reassurance.
Reassure the child that he or she is safe now.
A child may be embarrassed to talk about what happened. Older children and boys often feel a sense of guilt.
Tell the child that he or she is not at fault and is not responsible for what happened.
Anxiety/Loss of Control
A child may feel out of control or vulnerable. He or she may develop a low self-image.
Create situations in which the child feels in control and empowered. For example, encourage your child to make decisions about family activities or help with family meals or other activities he or she can complete successfully.
A child may refuse to talk, may be emotionally incapable of remembering or talking about the abuse, may develop immature behaviors (i.e. bedwetting, thumb sucking, loss of toilet training).
Help the child feel secure and in control. Explain the purpose of the legal investigation, the medical exam and treatment.
Difficulty Sleeping
A child may not want to sleep alone, experience nightmares, disrupted eating habits (hoarding food or reluctant to eat), reluctance to go to school, stomach ache or headache.
Allow the child to talk about his or her fears. Show understanding about his or her physical complaints and reassure the child that he or she is safe.

Visit our SAFE Place Treatment and Support Program page for information about what to do and not do if your child discloses to you that she/ he has experienced sexual abuse, and for a summary of common symptoms/problems after experiencing a traumatic event.


Guide to family, friends, and partners of older adolescent sexual assault/abuse survivors

Sexual assault and sexual abuse can be emotionally traumatic to survivors of either sex. While sexual assault occurs in both males and females, the following information primarily addresses female survivors and their loved ones.

Pertinent statistics regarding sexual assault/abuse

Common responses to recent sexual assault/abuse

Survivors differ in their responses to assault/abuse. The long-term effects may be influenced by the severity of the assault, the survivor’s existing coping skills and the support the person has afterwards. Nevertheless, the following responses are experienced by many survivors:

Common phases

Survivors often go through three general phases. (The phases do not always occur in the order listed below.)

Throughout all three phases, survivors need supportive people (friends, family, loved ones). A survivor support group and/or a counselor can also be of help.


How to help a survivor of recent sexual assault/abuse


Feelings you might experience while helping the survivor

In helping the survivor, here are some feelings you may experience:



You may feel guilty that you did not prevent the assault/abuse. It is neither your fault, nor the survivor's. The perpetrator committed the crime – not you.


How to help yourself


  • Print
  • Share

Contact Us

Report Child Abuse or Neglect

  • PA: 1-800-932-0313
  • NJ: 1-877-652-2873
  • DE: 1-800-292-9582
  • If the child is in immediate danger, call 911 first.