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When the Bough Breaks: A Helping Guide for Parents of Sexually Abused Children

NCJ Number
A Matsakis
Date Published
Mental health researchers and child protection professionals have conclusively documented the widespread prevalence of child sexual abuse and the psychological risks it poses to both child victims and adult survivors.
Even with a great deal of newly acquired knowledge about child sexual abuse, however, little information is available to the public on how to deal with a report of molestation and how to effectively assist a child who makes such a report. In an effort to educate parents and help them deal with sexually abused children, the author emphasizes the importance of a compassionate and supportive response by parents. Such a response has the potential to prevent the "second injury" which commonly accompanies victimization. The second injury occurs when someone from whom the victim expects protection and empathy responds in a nonhelpful and nonempathetic fashion. In contrast, a compassionate response has the potential to counterbalance the initial corrosive impact of abuse and to prevent long-term problems. The book supports parents in two ways: by outlining and responding to typical feelings a parent has in reaction to the disclosure of abuse; and by providing concrete information about child sexual abuse and its patterns, signs, and symptoms. Several case examples are included which realistically depict abuse scenarios in various types of families and illustrate how different values and parenting styles assist or hinder the child's recovery. Parents are offered pragmatic information on how to approach the child and how to offer effective assistance. The discussion of therapy covers locating, assessing, and working with the therapist and evaluating the child's therapeutic progress. The book further informs parents about the more severe consequences of sexual abuse such as acute depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, self-harm, and suicide. An appendix lists resources for sexual abuse survivors and their families. 74 endnotes