Respond: How to Respond to Disclosure & Suspicion of Abuse

Once you know and understand the risk of child sexual abuse, and understand what to look for, you need to know when and how to respond. This is especially important because there may be times when a child, directly or indirectly, discloses acts of abuse to you—and it is also possible that you’ll uncover direct evidence of abuse.

If there are reasonable suspicions of actual abuse taking place, then it is often your legal duty to report such suspicions to law enforcement. When responding to or reporting disclosure, discovery or reasonable suspicions of abuse, here are some things to keep in mind:

Disclosure: Responding to Children Who Report Abuse
If a child discloses that they have been abused, how you respond is extremely important both for the healing of that child and for the process of investigating and uncovering the truth. If someone discloses abuse to you, it’s extremely important to:

  • Listen calmly and openly
  • Don’t fill in any gaps or ask leading questions about the details
  • Tell them that you will get them the help that they need
  • Don’t promise that the information they say will be kept confidential
  • Report the abuse to the police or CPS (See steps below for “Discovery”)

Discovery: How to Report Abuse
You may have witnessed a sexually abusive act by an adult or youth with a child or uncovered evidence that abuse has taken place. It is extremely important to report this discovery immediately to the police. You will need to include the following information:

  • Provide the child’s name and where the child lives
  • Where you are, where the child is and where the alleged offender is
  • What the child said to you (if you have spoken to them)
  • What interactions you saw between the alleged offender and child
  • What behaviors, if any, you have observed in the alleged offender
  • What signs you have seen in the child
  • What access the offender has to the child 

By far the most common way that acts of abuse come to light is when abusers are caught breaking rules. So it’s important for all staff and volunteers to be ready to respond to and report rule-breaking to their supervisors—even if there is no evidence of actual abuse taking place.