The disclosure of a child's sexual abuse results in a crisis in the mother's life. Many mothers consider the event traumatic, and during the time period following disclosure, mothers experience many posttraumatic stress symptoms. Some are diagnosed with PTSD. Stress results in negative effects on body, brain, and immune system. In order to remain mentally and physically healthy, mothers need to use healthy coping skills, counteracting the effects of stress on their bodies, and build a support network of friends and family. The mother is considered the primary support for the victim, and her belief and support are the best predictors for the victim's recovery.
When a tragedy occurs, people access friends, family ,and other community members to help them get through the crisis. One of the early processes following disclosure is determining who in your network of family, friends, and acquaintances is able to provide emotional support. Unfortunately certain types of crises, like child sexual abuse, do not bring positive responses from friends and family.
Many family members will be angry that you reported the abuse. There are many rationales for their behavior. If the abuser is a family member (husband, brother, grandfather), the family may want to resolve the problem in the family and not get legal or social services involvement. Standing against this kind of resistance is not easy for mothers who themselves are ambivalent and in need of support. Family members may also have known or know about other family secrets that they do not want addressed. They may be afraid. They may be ashamed. They may not want others in the community to know about their family problems. If abuse and/or other addictions has been a part of the family system, then a silent family rule is often: don't talk, don't feel, don't trust. This rule may have been carried from generation to generation and results in children's being hurt and problems being perpetuated. It is important to determine the family members that will support you through the post-disclosure process and avoid those other family members that may attempt to guilt or shame you.
Friends are sometimes not supportive.They may be afraid. To have something like this happen to a friend means that it could happen to them. Talking to your friends, telling them what you need, and asking for help will direct you to those friends who are most willing and able to walk with you through this process. You will need friends to accompany you to interviews and court processes. You may need help with childcare during required appointments. You will want someone to talk to and cry with. You will need someone to encourage you, as well as someone to hold you accountable. Many mothers experience immediate grief symptoms. They may already have mental health diagnoses (e.g., depression), and this event exacerbates the symptoms. Mothers may have been abused as children, and a child's abuse may trigger memories and pain related to that history. Taking a walk with a friend, going to the gym, and other healthy coping strategies will help counteract the stress.
Community support, such as pastors, priests, crisis workers, and others, can help you get through the crisis and provide ongoing support. Contact your pastor or priest. Check with the local women's resource center and find out what services are available. They sometimes have support groups available for mothers of sexually abused children. Contact a local therapist and ask for information about therapy groups that may be useful. Get into individual counseling so that you have professional help to assist you through this process.
No matter who the abuser was, the post-disclosure process is difficult for mothers. Shock and denial, followed by anger, guilt, fear, anxiety, and possibly depression, are initial reactions in mothers. A child will most likely experience long-term consequences as a result of abuse. This is a trauma to the child, and mothers are secondary victims as they observe and support their children's recovery process.