Nearly every week we are hearing new stories of long hidden child abuse from adult survivors. When teachers and counselors hear of abuse of those who are minors, our first thoughts ought to go to the question of mandated reporting. Those who come into contact with children in some professional capacity (doctor, teacher, counselor, pastor, etc.) are required to report that abuse to the proper child protection authorities.
But what should teachers and pastors (non-counselors) do when an adult comes and reveals long-hidden victimization as a child? After receiving two similar questions in a week on this topic I posed the question to my colleague, Jenn Zuck. Jenn has a background in victim advocacy and is a counselor and teacher. Here were some of her recommendations (with a few changed by me):
- Do: Listen – Let the person tell their story without getting caught up in the details. It may seem scattered and fragmented. That is normal
- Don’t: Judge – You are not the investigator, prosecutor, or judge. You do not need to make final judgments about what is being told to you. Do not assign any blame to the victim as nothing they did as a child excuses the abuse they experienced
- Do: Know your responsibility
- Reporting. Are faculty considered mandated reporters (child abuse, elder abuse, suicidal & homicidal expressions? If a 21-year-old reveals child sexual abuse and suggests another minor is in imminent danger from the abuser, do you have obligations to report
- What are the school’s policies? Learn them
- What are the best resources for the person? For example, police dept. numbers, child line numbers, counseling resources, victim service agencies info.
- Don’t: Offer false promises. For example, “I will take care of it,” “It will all work out/be ok,” “You have nothing to worry about,” etc.
- Do: Feel empathy, compassion, and care.
- Don’t: Feel like you have to fix it/solve it, or have an immediate answer on what to do next. Instead, coach the person to seek appropriate help and to manage symptoms in classes. Also, don’t force the person to disclose the abuse to others.
- Do:Listen for evidence of resilience, adaptation, and other strengths so that abuse is not the only defining feature of the person