When a child discloses sexual abuse to an adult it is always upsetting to hear and each situation will be different. A child may say very little or indeed may say a great deal. The main thing to remember is that if a child under 18 years of age discloses any information about sexual abuse it is the child’s protection which is the priority. Our responses as adults must always be aligned with this priority. These guidelines provide a framework for our response to such disclosure.
If a child begins to tell you about abuse it can be overwhelming and upsetting. Take care to really listen to the child and be gently supportive. The child is exercising great trust in you by talking to you. After the initial disclosure you need to speak to the relevant ministry leader and also contact the Safe Church Unit (SCU) to report.
- Victorian legislation dictates that a disclosure of child sexual abuse must always be reported to the Department of Human Services – Child Protection or Victoria Police
- At any time any individual in the PCV is able to contact Child Protection or Victoria Police directly to make a report
- At any time any individual in the PCV is able to contact Victoria Police should they believe a child is in immediate danger
- If you are uncertain about contacting Child Protection or Victoria Police directly then call the SCU to report the disclosure and the SCU will take the next appropriate step
- If you choose to report directly to Child Protection or to call Victoria Police always contact the SCU by calling 0499 090 449 to report afterwards
During the disclosure conversation:
It can be helpful to have another adult present during the conversation, particularly where a parent or guardian is not present. If possible ask another adult to join you and the child while the child talks, if the child indicates that they would be comfortable with this.
Obtain appropriate details while being aware that at this early stage it is not appropriate to probe too deeply. Listen, take notes if possible and do not add anything.
Clarify exactly what the allegation is and who is involved. You will need to know:
- where the alleged offence took place
- the name and age of the child making the disclosure
- the whereabouts of all those involved
- some understanding of the nature of the alleged abuse - but do not press the child for information or push the child to reveal the details of the abuse. Let the child tell you as much as they seem comfortable to say
- the name of the alleged offender and his/her relationship to the child
- any known details about the family structure if the allegation relates to a family member
Whenever a child under the age of 18 tells someone that they are being or have been harmed or abused this is known as a disclosure. Children rarely make disclosures but when they do it indicates that they feel they can trust the person they disclose to and most likely are seeking help.
Listen, listen, listen…and do not add anything.
When listening to a child remember:
- that children often talk about difficult or painful things in a roundabout way
- that children need assurance from adults that it is OK to talk about upsetting things
- children often feel ashamed and frightened and find it hard to find the right words to explain
- being observant will help you pick up non-verbal clues about what is wrong
- a child may drop hints when something is wrong, for example, “I don’t like so and so. Do you like him/her?”
Tell the child, “You are not to blame”.
Reassure the child, “You are right to tell and I take what you say very seriously.”
Tell the child that you and the church are there to help and you will be telling the Safe Church Unit what has been said so that the child can receive help.
Say “There are people who can help you and I will tell them.”
Finish on a positive note and tell the child “I am pleased you told me this. You are not alone.”
Minimise the allegation or disclosure, or convey disbelief by anything you do or say. Remember, what may seem incredible may actually be true. Abusers are often cunning, secretive, manipulative and not immediately nor obviously identifiable.
Promise the abuse will stop - this is not in your control.
Promise not to tell anyone else - this is not a promise you can keep.
Press the child for information or push the child to reveal the details of the abuse. Do not ask leading questions, rather listen carefully and if possible take notes.
Start your own investigation into the situation.
Tell anyone who does not need to know.
Remember: If you consider that the child is in immediate danger call the Victoria Police 000. Stay with the child and then call the SCU 0499 090 449.
If there is no immediate danger then as soon as possible after the disclosure make handwritten notes of exactly what the child said and the date and time of the meeting. Notify the ministry leader or person in authority and then call the SCU 0499 090 449. Alternatively call DHS Child Protection and then call the SCU.
If the disclosure or allegation relates to a person in authority within the church, such as a fellow ministry worker or leader, do not speak to that person about the allegation. Rather, call the SCU to report as there are established procedures to deal with such a situation.
If the disclosure involves sexual abuse or assault that is recent (generally within the previous 24 hours) then the clothing worn by the person should be retained and they should not wash as a medical examination may be required for forensic evidence. Remember that with forensic evidence the sooner examined the better. This is mainly pertinent in a situation where the abuse has happened either during a church or church organisation event (for example, on a camp) or just prior to a child attending a ministry (for example, youth group or kids’ club).