Dear Barb—Abuse Anxiety

Dear Barb:

I am the mother of an eight-year-old girl and I’ve never had any problems with her until recently. It just came out that my daughter’s best friend was sexually abused by a family member. My daughter has spent a lot of time at this friend’s home. They have had sleepovers together at her friend’s home and even went on vacations and camping together. The person who did the sexual abuse does not live in the home, but visits frequently. Fortunately the girl’s mother was responsible enough to share this information with me. She told me that this man is no longer welcome in their home and they are considering charging him with sexual abuse, but they do not want to traumatize their daughter further right now.  The mother said she is pretty sure she will go through with the charges but she is waiting a while until her daughter has had some counseling, so she can cope with the justice system. Of course, I’m wondering if my daughter has been abused as well. When I try to broach the subject, my daughter refuses to talk about it. I have noticed a difference in her, but I’m not sure if this is a result of her friend being abused, or if she was actually abused. I don’t know whether to push the issue with my daughter or just let it be for a while and see if she begins to talk on her own. Confused in Calgary!

Dear Confused:

Thanks for writing your very important letter. Unfortunately, the effects of childhood sexual abuse are devastating and can last a lifetime. Early intervention can lessen the effects, or at least show the person how to manage the effects. Because your daughter’s friend was abused doesn’t mean your daughter was. Often abusers target a certain child, where they may sense a vulnerability within that child, which would make them easier to manipulate. Since your daughter seems to have become withdrawn, I would suggest you take her to a counselor who may be able to draw her out. Your family physician will be able to suggest someone who is experienced in these matters.  In the meantime there are signs you could watch for in her daughter that may indicate she has been sexual abused. For example, changes in her eating habits, angry outbursts, becoming withdrawn, nightmares, or fear of being alone, just to name a few. The earlier you do an intervention the better it will be for your daughter.  The long-term effects of sexual abuse can be devastating and may include depression, anxiety, an inability to trust, sexual issues, sleep disorders and substance abuse.  According to statistics one in three girls and one is six boys will experience sexual abuse before the age of sixteen. A scary statistic, so thank you for bringing light to this subject.

Email your questions to  Some submissions may be edited for length or to protect confidentiality; your real name and location will never be printed.  This column is for entertainment only.  The author is not a professional counsellor and this column is not intended to take the place of professional advice.