'Supporting the supporters': How and why we help parents whose child has experienced sexual violence
Protect Children’s You Are Enough peer support groups – support for parents whose child has been a victim of sexual violence.
It had already started getting dark on a Tuesday evening, when parents started to gather in Protect Children’s online You Are Enough support group. The participants came from different parts of Finland, but were united by one incredibly difficult experience - each of them were parents to a child who had been subjected to crimes of sexual violence.
Protect Children started the “You Are Enough” peer support groups for parents whose child have been subjected to sexual violence already in 2021. Based on the experience and feedback we have received from the groups we must unfortunately conclude that the support offered in Finland to families and parents who have experienced a crime of sexual violence is insufficient. Parents are left alone to cope with the sudden, substantial change in their everyday lives, the criminal processes which go on for years, and dealing with all the issues related to it. Despite all the challenges caused by the criminal process, the parents say that the hardest thing they experienced was their own child's suffering and severe trauma symptoms.
"A crying need to be able to share about my extremely painful issue with people who have had the same experience." - Parent, You Are Enough group
The trauma of sexual violence experienced by children and young people and the psychological symptoms caused by it are often widely reflected in school attendance as various school absences and study difficulties as well as interruptions in hobbies and social relationships. Parents have described their own children's self-harming behavior and suicide attempts as the most difficult experiences. Without psychosocial support, information, and targeted guidance and peer support, the parents' burden is unbearable. However, having one's own child become the target of sexual violence is not something that is easy to talk about or share, even among friends. Many parents have not told anyone about what happened, often to protect the child's privacy.
"I have gained confidence in my own good parenting. The distress and pain have eased a lot." - Parent, You Are Enough group
Every parent whose child is a victim of sexual violence should receive professional information and targeted guidance to help their child. If necessary, the parent should also be able to receive additional support and guidance at a low threshold. The message of the "You Are Enough" peer support group of Protect Children is clear - having one's own child become a victim of sexual violence is often the worst thing parents have ever had to experience. Peer support and the clear message "You know, you are capable, and you are the most important support in your child's recovery" from the "You Are Enough" groups have given hope for recovery. Understanding and support is conveyed in every group meeting and in the discussions between parents. The groups have proven to be an important and effective form of support for parents, who have the opportunity process their experiences in a safe space, with peer support, targeted information, and guidance available, as well as hope for the recovery of the child and the family.
"My own ability to cope has improved and my understanding of things has increased, which directly affects my child."
"I accept my own and my child's feelings and understand them better. I feel that I got a lot of help and support as a parent."
"I have received tools and information on how I can support my child. I have received answers and experiences from professionals and peers from the group for questions and situations I cannot answer on my own. I think all of this has helped me to understand my child's situation and support them in it."
"My child has seen that their mother gets help, which she benefits from. I think my child is at ease and talks more about these things."
The parent's coping is always directly connected to the child's recovery, and every child victim is entitled to the best possible support for recovering from the trauma. Let's never forget the most important supporters of a child on the road to recovery - the parents.