How do I get my daughter to disclose if she was abused?

by Cassie
(Texas, USA)

My oldest daughter was sexually abused by her paternal grandmother. We have addressed the issue and she is currently in play therapy. We are in the process of the trial now. However, my youngest daughter is now developing issues (for about a year or so) with severe anger and hostility. This anger is directed mainly at me and my oldest daughter.

She does not know my oldest daughter was sexually abused, but she does know the grandmother hurt her sister (both children are now 7 and 8 years old). I am afraid she was also abused, but I do not know how to find out without telling her that her sister was abused or without "implanting" false memories. How can I find out or gain disclosure in a manner which would not implicate the abuse her sister endured?

Over the past two years she has wet the bed on several occasions (something her sister also did), is extremely angry and violent (hitting me and her sister, yelling, screaming, banging her head against the wall, lashing out at others) and has shown signs of low self-esteem. These issues trigger the notion and signs of sexual abuse. Now, neither girl has seen their paternal grandmother in three years—except for two occasions, which resulted in modifications of visitation orders (for their biological father) after I found out they had been around her.

Her behavior worries me. I wonder if she is not attempting to tell me something has indeed happened, but is afraid to actually disclose.

Initial reply from Darlene: I first want to say how very sorry I am to learn that your daughter was sexually abused and that your family is now in the throes of a court case. A trial is a very trying experience for adults; it can be even more traumatizing for children. With such emotional turmoil in the home, children see how pained the adults are in their lives, the adults they depend on for all their physical and emotional needs. Then they blame themselves for all that is wrong around them, because that is the nature of children. Whether or not your youngest daughter was also sexually abused, I cannot say. Her behaviour and physical signs may indeed be reflective of abuse, but they may also be how she is dealing with the situation at hand.



Children are extremely intuitive. They don't have the language or understanding capabilities, but their other senses are highly acute. They can read body language and emotional upheaval in someone they love in the blink of an eye. Children have radar for any kind of tension in the home...then they tell themselves, "It's all my fault."

But because children can't articulate what they are feeling, they often lash out at the very people they love the most.

Your eldest daughter is in play therapy. This type of therapy has been shown to be beneficial under such circumstances. Play therapy may also be a good idea for your youngest daughter. If not play therapy, some other form of counselling. The remainder of my answer to this Ask Darlene question "How do I get my daughter to disclose if she was abused?" can be found below.

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Comments for How do I get my daughter to disclose if she was abused?

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Mar 30, 2008
Report your suspicions...
by: Darlene Barriere - Webmaster

Cassie, you obviously suspect your 7-year-old was abused, so I strongly urge you to report your suspicions, and tell why you suspect sexual abuse. Let an investigator speak to your daughter. They are trained in how to deal with such cases, so leave it to them to do their job.

So, to answer your question: "How can I find out or gain disclosure in a manner which would not implicate the abuse her sister endured?" The simple answer is: You don't, for a number of reasons. You already recognize that you are not trained to obtain responses from a child who may have been abused; that's a big plus, Cassie. The fact that you are 'asking' rather than 'acting' is a very good thing.

You don't know for certain that your youngest daughter was sexually abused. Yes, it is very possible, and yes, I understand how and why you are jumping to this conclusion—the signs are the same as those your other daughter exhibited. But children can easily be manipulated, so to ask outright or to ask in a way that is suggestive would not necessarily lead to a true disclosure, even if she had been abused. Furthermore, if you do try to and then succeed at "obtaining" a disclosure, you could hurt any chances of a conviction later on, if the person was eventually charged.

I don't know the laws or the way the system works in Texas, but I would think there is a child advocate involved with your other daughter, perhaps a CASA, or a case worker with Social Services or Child Protection Services. With a pending case against your girls' paternal grandmother, I would think the prosecution would also want to hear of any other possible cases. Also, check into any Witness or Victim Support Services that may be available to you and your daughters. And don't forget your daughter's school counsellor. S/he may be able to provide additional resources. But at the very least, the school should be made aware of what is going on with regard to the court case and your suspicions.

As I stated in my initial reply, I believe your youngest daughter would benefit from counselling. If you can find a counsellor who specializes in the area of children who were abused, that would be ideal.

Keep showing your love to your daughters. Keep the home as "normal" as possible. Try not to let the court case become the "norm." Remember, all that is trying will pass. Stay in the here and now with your girls. Take your lead from them, in the moment. Take things as they come. Stay calm in the presence of your daughters, regardless of what happens or what is disclosed; if you must, have a nervous breakdown later, away from your girls.

The best gift you can give to your children is to take good care of their mother, Cassie. I urge you to seek out some form of counselling as well.

Darlene Barriere
Violence & Abuse Prevention Educator
Author: On My Own Terms, A Memoir

Mar 31, 2008
Thank you
by: Cassie

Thank you so very much for your comment and concern. You are very right, the last thing I want is to cause either child any additional trauma. I chose play therapy because of the benifits and I hoped it would provide my daughter with a better method of coping. I researched the benefits of both traditional and play therapy and found the play avnue to be best for my daughter. She has been doing very well in there.

You are very right and I never fully considerered the fact my daughter may actually be sensing something is amiss and reacting in a manner in which she finds to be the only reaction. I am just concerned she may have been abused and I know my oldest daughter has made some tremendous steps in recovery and I believe this is because we found out when we did and took the much needed steps to ensure she was placed in a theraputic setting ASAP. I do not want to ignore it or think, "Oh, it is just jelousy or ill feelings", and then find out much later she was angry over omething very different. My oldest daughter knows she can talk to me at any time about what happened and I think that goes a long way for a child and I want to make myself available to my youngest daughter in that manner if the case is the same. I love my children and want them to have the best start in life- and being sexually abused does not mean a child is doomed to forever victimization. My oldest is testimony to that fact. She is relsilient beyond her years and still behaves as a "normal" 8 year old would.
Thank you for your advise and I will surely speak with the prosecutor and see what they can possibly do and then place her in play therepy as well.

I would like to tell all mothers who endure this- your child will be okay- it is us who carry the pain, guilt, and regret. They move on- one lesson my daughter has taught me is just because something bad happens does not mean you will forever fear or relive. She is a very bright, loving, sweet, normal little girl. The best advice I can give is to hold your child, LISTEN to your child, and do what is best for your child!!!!!!! I cry every single day- I feel partially responsible no matter what anyone else says. I feel my job was to protect my daughter and I failed. However, it is not how you start, it is how you end. My husband tells me this everyday. I am taking the steps to bring my daughters' grandmother to justice and ensure she is not allowed to hurt my daughter or any other child again. That is what matters. You grow- just as they grow- stronger.

Apr 01, 2008
My appreciation and an "exercise" to try...
by: Darlene Barriere - Webmaster

You're so very welcome, Cassie. Gratitude will always be graciously accepted and appreciated.

Your comments below will resonate with many of my visitors. One that resonated with me was: "I feel partially responsible no matter what anyone else says. I feel my job was to protect my daughter and I failed. However, it is not how you start, it is how you end." The latter could not be more true. The former, however, I feel compelled to address.

Cassie, if you continue to identify yourself as a failure as a mother, your children will pick up on that. Whatever happened in the past, is in the past; there is nothing you can do to change it. Logically, you know that; emotionally is a different thing all together.

I'm going to suggest an exercise that you might find helpful. The next time you start feeling like a failure, the next time that little voice in your head starts up with the "I'm a failure" messages, be aware that your mind is thinking about that. Mentally observe your thoughts. Don't question them or try to deny them; "watch" them. Then pay close attention to the emotions you are feeling. Allow yourself those emotions, and then pay attention to the way your body is reacting to those emotions. Don't resist in any way, just allow it all to happen...then see where it leads you. This is an exercise in staying in the present moment. You might be pleasantly surprised at the outcome.

Darlene Barriere
Violence & Abuse Prevention Educator
Author: On My Own Terms, A Memoir

Jan 16, 2009
My daughters are going through the same thing.
by: Anonymous

Cassie, I don't want to worry you but keep in mind that a mothers gut is usually right. If you think something might have happened then act on it, get her help. My daughters are 12 and 11 and my youngest daughter came to me back in Aug. They were abused by their grandpa and have been for years. I am trying everything to stay together for them but to be honest my house is a mess. My 12yr old didn't want anyone to know and now is acting out. My husband isn't dealing with the fact he wasn't there to protect them. It is very sad time in our lives and I will be so glad to see the light and the end of this. My prayers are with you.

Feb 08, 2009
My Sweet Little Boy
by: Anonymous

Can anyone give me some advise, my 6 year old son was abused by his 12yr old cousin I don't understand how a 12 yr old boy can do this to another child. Is there a special doctor that specializes in treatment for young children i have a list of doctors but i dont know where to start there are psyd,phd,ect I took my child to a ph doctor he usally takes in older kids but my son realy likes going there. Am i doing the right thing? The day he saw the doctor he started drawing everything he feels. He also comes to me and says i need to open the door wich means, i need to talk, I then tell him it's open and he tells me something new each time. It's so hard to listen to him and not cry but i hold it all in and try to be strong for him. I hope i'm helping him heal and not hurting him or making things worst.

Mar 08, 2011
Flustered Beyond Belief
by: Jeni

Wow, I am so sorry to all the people on here and their pain and their stories. I am dealing with a very similar situation. My two children went to see their father this last summer, and my youngest disclosed that their was inappropriate touching going on. A police report has been made, cps involved, a temp protection order, which was dismissed due to lack of proof even though the police still are investigating this. The father has now taken a cvsa, a lie detector, and failed it. But yet I am told I still have to send my kids to see him even though all of this has happened. The sick part is he is guilty and no one is out to protect my kids. I am told if I do not send them I will be in contempt of not following the court order from the divorce, but if I do then cps has the right to charge me with neglect and negiligence for putting them in harms way. My heart breaks for my kids. They along with every other child that is going through this, these kids are innocent and dont deserve this. As for the comments above, seek out play therapy for the kids, they are offered everywhere, their are also adult parent support groups. Best of luck to you all.

Feb 09, 2012
Suspicious great grandmother
by: Anonymous

Hi I am really sorry to all the people in this situation. I am a loving mother of a 3 yr old son and would do anything to protect him. I have recently heard from my hubbys grandmother that her son my child's grandfather could be a sexual molester and she saw him cuddling her in an improper manner she sensed some the signs of sexual estacy on his face at that particular time when we were on a family picnic.this has affected me intensely and I can't relax anymore.I do also Have to mention that they hate each other and been having family fued for years And she absolutely hates her daughter in law.the great grandmother of the child believes that my husband was physically abused by the father severely with a Posibility of sexual abuse (she wouldn't say) and she believes he is going to do the same to my son.I don't know who to believe or is this simply triggered by great grans hate for her son and the daughter in law. I believe I have a good relationship with him so far but I would report him in a heartbeat if it was true.my wife cries all the time saying she was physically abused and she still gets verbally abused by her father but most of the time it's because she swears at him when he is not patient with her.I don't know what to do please help I would like to believe my father in law is not a molester how do I know if the grandmother is accusing him just out of spite and her personal hatred towards her son.I just want to protect my family.


Mar 24, 2013
My 15 year old daughter and 42 year's old husband sleep together in a room alone 4 years.
by: AnonymousSherry

Hi I am Sherry from Connecticut..I commend you for coming forward and asking this question.I Also think my ex hubby and daughter are having sex.But dont know how to ask them....If they have slept together and he abused her..They have slept in the same bed for 5 years.She is our lil princess and she wants her daddy sleeping in her room.How ever my daughter is now 15.And I sleep in another room with her 15 month old baby watching it,And as of late I been hearing moans at night and mornings and been finding used condoms in the toilette the last 4 years or so.And no one but my husband can be using them.But I know men go to the bathroom and masturbate time to time with condoms...{TMI}*I know* in the last 18 months or so.And me and my ex hubby are working things out.And will get re married in 3 years time in 2016.

So,How would I go about bringing this up to them?And worse case what do I do about it if He dose have sexual intercourse with our daughter supports us and my daughters 15 month old baby.As she was raped by 3 boys at her school one night at a party when she was grounded..We never called the police then she was too ashamed.And couldn't get a straight story from no one..Just cuz she snuck to a boys house.And it has tore our family apart for the past 2 years,But were rebuilding..If I can get this addressed.My husband was sexual abused as a kid and all his siblings..And in the past he said lil girls turn him on, but he fights them feelings and is ashamed for feeling like that , and see's a therapist 2 times a week.And he I am in a hard place and a bedrock of diamonds.

I just hope there is good help I can get as I need all I can get.I have seen my husbands hands near her groin area and like I said I herd moans, a squeaky bed, they spend all their time together in that room,when I watch and be the guardian of her toddler.He supports us all and I have no financial freedom..But now that my daughter's are growing up I will get a job and a daycare.AnonymousSherry from Connecticut

Oct 28, 2013
caught my daughter puttin a toy gun in her private parts
by: kay kay

ok for a while now my daughtes always has her hands in her pants and she is currious about that area down there. but tonight i caught her trying to stick a toy gun in there and its freaking me out she is my only child and i was abused as a kid so iam terrified. she has rashes a lot to but she gets them from not wiping properly after going potty. i had a talk with her and she just kept thinking she was in trouble and ask her stuff like has any one touch you there , played a game that involved that area, told her if she was honest i would buy her a toy and she freaked out screaming and i reasured her she wasnt in trouble and she has done nothing wrong, also a wile back she had a really bad rash we took her to the er and they did look at the area and said it didnt look like any thing bad but i have a bad feeling and im worried sick . she keeps telling no one has hurt her there and no one has touched her and no one told her to keep secrets but im really worried and i talked to her dad and we dont no what to do cause i no in some cases this is normal but i can i find out of something has happened to her she isnt scared of any one she is around she does have some behavor issues as did i and her father growing up and we were both abused as well im just really worried any thing i can do or to make sure please give me some advice - also the only people she is around she isnt scared of at all she loves every one so im stuck and she wont talk with out thinking she is in trouble

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