What to do if I suspect my own child is being sexually abused?

​If you begin suspecting that a child/adolescent has become a victim of sexual abuse
  • When you are with the child/adolescent, try to be as calm as you can and stick to a normal everyday routine.

  •  Contact the police as soon as possible. In urgent situations, you can call the general emergency number 112. In other cases, contact your local police station

  • The police will commission any doctor's examination required for the investigation of the case. Urgency of the examinations will be evaluated by the police and health care provider. In many cases, doctor's examinations can be performed during office hours.

  • If your suspicions are raised by what the child/adolescent is saying, write down what he or she tells you (as accurately as possible), including in which context the matter was raised and any questions you might have asked. When recording the conversation, write down the child's/adolescent's own words, as accurately as possible. Do not add your own interpretations or fill in possible gaps in the story.

  •  If you ask any questions, use only open and neutral questions, such as "What do you mean?" or "Could you tell me a little more about it?" to further elaborate on something the child/adolescent has already told you. 

  •  Do not make demands or pressure the child/adolescent into talking about the issue; leave the investigation to professionals. You can tell the child/adolescent that you will listen to them and that they can talk to you about absolutely anything.

  • Avoid asking questions on your own initiative. If the child/adolescent does not spontaneously wish to discuss the matter, you should leave it at that. From the perspective of criminal investigation, it is vital that the suspicions are discussed with the child/adolescent as little as possible before the official interview, and without leading the child.

  • Avoid discussing the matter with other adults or venting your own anxiety when the child/adolescent is present. Sometimes, strong reactions from their environment can be just as harmful to the child/adolescent as being victim to the actual crime. For this reason, you should try to protect the child/adolescent from such reactions.

  • If you spot any discussions or images on the Internet that suggest child sexual abuse or an attempt of such abuse, contact the virtual police officers or report the content to Save the Children Finland's Hotline.

Take the matter seriously, support the child but do not lead

In all life situations, including major crises, the support of one's own family and a safe everyday routine are most important to the child. Parents may be greatly weighed down or burdened by suspicions of their child being affected by a violent or sexual crime. Their own feelings might make it difficult for them to take the child's needs into account. However, there are several important positive aspects in the situation coming to light – authorities are investigating the matter and you and your child have the chance to receive help. When going through a crisis, it would be good for parents to talk to a professional about their feelings. You can call, for example, the Finnish Association of Mental Health's national crisis helpline on +358 10 19 5202. More information on where to find help is available from the brochure Lapsi rikoksen uhrina (Children as crime victims, in Finnish), prepared by the Ministry of Justice.

If the child tells you anything that suggests sexual abuse, you should always take it seriously. Authorities with expertise in the field are able to evaluate whether an offence should be suspected and will assist you in how to proceed. You should therefore contact the police as soon as possible after you begin suspecting abuse.

Often suspicions turn out to be 'false alarms'. Without even noticing, concerned adults might lead the child into "telling" about abuse even when it has not occurred. The child might also unintentionally produce an unfounded suspicion by getting their imagination and reality mixed up or by misinterpreting a certain situation. The Internet, among other things, has increased the chances of children coming across sexual information. For this reason, even when children's talk contains detailed sexual information, this might turn out to be a false suspicion. However, investigation of any suspicions should be left to the authorities.

Symptoms experienced by children or behaviour interpreted as overly sexual might raise suspicions of abuse. Sexual abuse might lead the child to show a wide range of symptoms (see Symptoms of sexual abuse). At the same time, these symptoms might have other causes, such as more common psychological problems. They might also be part of the child's normal development (see Sexual development in children). Some children affected by sexual abuse show no symptoms at all. Because of this, psychological symptoms alone are insufficient grounds for evaluating whether the child has become a victim of sexual abuse.

Contrary to what common sense might suggest, emotional reactions or body language in children do not reflect the truthfulness of their story when they talk about their experiences of abuse. When telling about long-term abuse, for example, the child might not really show any emotion, yet exhibit clear signs of anxiety when telling a fabricated story. Children under school age might not necessarily understand the nature of the situation when becoming a victim of sexual abuse, and might think of it as a game.