When children disclose abuse or trafficking, they often do so indirectly. They might come to you and say that they are concerned their friend might be being abused, trafficked, or exploited; that their friend told them something; or that someone is making them uncomfortable. Try to listen to the clues they give you and create a safe space for them to continue sharing.
If it is an emergency, dial 911.
If it is something you find out from a friend or something you see on their phone/computer:
Breathe, step back, and take time to plan. Call your support team (that you identified when creating your Safety Plan) to process what has happened and make a plan.
When speaking with your child:
Always start by believing your child, and try to stay as calm as possible.
Create a safe space. Your child needs to feel heard and that you are present, supportive, and confident. Even though you may be scared or shocked, try to avoid communicating this, as the child may feel they have done something wrong. Try to stay calm, speak slowly, and avoid cutting them off when they are speaking.
Thank your child for telling you something so important, and let them know you believe them and will support them. Statements or questions like “Can you tell me more…?” or “What were you feeling when..?” are good ways to help a child open up.
Ask open-ended questions and avoid accusatory questions. As you listen to your child and gather more information, your questions should be open-ended. Avoid asking accusatory questions like “Why didn’t you tell me?” or “Why didn’t you stop it?” and avoid leading questions like “Was it your uncle?” Let the child guide the conversation. You want to let them say what they want rather than feel like they have been through an interrogation. “What do you need right now?” and “How can I make sharing feel more safe for you?” are good open-ended questions. Through your conversation, try to gather information about the following:
When did it happen?
Where did it happen?
Who did it? How do you know them? (if they are known)
Try to avoid having your child repeat themself. When children have to repeat themselves, they may feel as though they have done something wrong. Remember, as hard as it is to hear what your child is saying, it is important to stay calm. Your reaction will be a very memorable part of the experience for your child.
Make no promises. Your child will likely have fears about what will happen next and may ask you not to tell anyone what happened. Do not tell your child that you won’t tell anyone what they tell you. Instead, be honest about what you are going to do next and who else they may need to talk to. It is important to explain that if you are a mandated reporter (for example, if you are a foster parent), you have to make a report. However, you want to do it with them and for them. This is the law, and it’s there to keep them safe. If Child Protective Services or the police need to be called, explain to your child what you can, and reassure them you will be their biggest support through the process. Understanding these next steps will help the child have clarity and know you are fully there to support them.
Document quotes. After you talk to them, take a moment to jot down some of the main things that were said. Document quotes whenever possible, without having to go back to your child to ask the same question multiple times. Quotes can be helpful if other parties—such as Child Protective Services, the police, or a school—need to be involved.
Report suspected abuse or trafficking
It is your responsibility to keep the children in your life safe. Report any suspicion of child abuse or trafficking to the proper authorities. If you call the police or Child Protective Services, they will likely want to know what happened, when it happened, where it happened, who did it, and their relationship to the child. You will be also asked for some information about yourself, such as your name, address, where you work, and how the child disclosed information to you.