CUSD Cares

Responding to the Discovery of Sexual Abuse

November 23, 2021 Brenda Vargas, Dr.Floyd Godfrey Season 2 Episode 12
CUSD Cares
Responding to the Discovery of Sexual Abuse
Show Notes Transcript

Brenda Vargas, Director of Counseling and Social Services speaks with Dr. Floyd Godfrey,  of Family Strategies Counseling Center,  and discusses the sensitive but  important subject of sexual abuse and the response to discovering the abuse. 

Brenda Vargas:

Greetings parents. Thank you again for joining us for another edition of CUSD cares podcasts . You know, today we're going to be discussing a really sensitive topic, but we are incredibly lucky to have right in our own backyard, in our own community , experts in all kinds of fields. Today, we are welcoming Dr. Floyd Godfrey, Dr. Godfrey comes to us with over 20 years of experience. He is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to sexual abuse, sexual abuse victims, as well as sexual addiction. He serves on multiple boards, including Canyon State Academy, as well as the Hope Foundation on Mental Health. To say that he's an expert in the field is definitely an understatement. And we're just so pleased to have him on our podcast to share with us his wealth of knowledge, and also really to share with parents that he's available as well as his organization, which is Family Strategies Counseling Center. Welcome Dr. Godfrey to our C USD podcast.

Dr. Floyd Godfrey:

Thank you. I'm happy to be here.

Brenda Vargas:

So glad you're with us and you know what? We have parents and community members that join us at all different times of the day. And just tap into us just to get enough information to then go searching a little bit more. Today, our topic, and as I shared before on sexual abuse as you know, in your experience in dealing with many different family members, can come as a true shock to many. Before we even begin, I know you wanted to make a mention because we have a lot of mental health providers out there that provide lots of supports to our families. Is there something you would like to share before we even begin on this conversation?

Dr. Floyd Godfrey:

Yeah. I know that we're going to have a conversation about all kinds of things related to abuse, and I think it's important for everyone to know that I have worked over many years with families where this is a problem, and this has happened. It's important to know that what we're talking about today though, is more meant to give some basic knowledge, some basic information. I'm not intending to provide therapy or advice in that regards. And some families may already be working with a therapist or a mental health provider. Everybody's situation is so unique and so different. It's important to follow the guidance of whoever you're working with or somebody individually. So we're just going to be talking very basically about some concepts. And I just don't want anyone to think that we're trying to provide therapy for them today.

Brenda Vargas:

Agreed. And I appreciate you sharing that disclaimer, as we just want to be helpful and help educate others on how to deal with this because it can certainly make folks uncomfortable and people just don't know how to respond. So as a parent, sometimes what comes out of our children's mouth, sometimes it's unexpected. That could be day to day, but especially about topics such as this. As a parent or caregiver, and I say that because we have a lot of adults in a family structure that help care and help children raised. It is definitely, I think, one of their worst nightmares to have to discover, find out that their child has had an incident in which they've experienced sexual abuse. As we receive that news, what information is important for parents and caregivers to understand and know as the information is being discovered?

Dr. Floyd Godfrey:

Yes, that's a good question because Brenda, for most parents or caregivers, it's a shock . It's not something that you eased into; it's all of a sudden this information comes to light and you're a little bit shocked. My experience has been that most caregivers, most parents have a range of different emotions that are flying around when they discover this. You may be feeling anger , angry about the abuse, hurting your child, maybe anger, even directed towards the child. If we're talking about a teenager, sometimes teenagers are a bit snarky anyway. And so you're already frustrated in the relationship. Some parents have a lot of anxiety that comes up. They want to know how to respond the right way. Some parents have a lot of fear, just direct fear, how it's going to change the family circumstances. You might have an immense amount of sadness and of course just shock and everything that's occurring. Some parents also may have experienced abuse in other ways, themselves. And so it could even be triggering and it creates some kind of trauma response in the parents themselves. So you have to be cautious about your response and recognize that you may have all kinds of emotions that are stirred up and know how to acknowledge that. So you can properly identify what to do. What's the next step, how to handle it. So if you were a parent or a caregiver, and you discover that your child has been abused in some way, you can always call 9 1 1, and they will have a reference for you as to what to do next. If you are engaging or you've discovered specific sexual abuse, you can always call the national sexual hotline, sexual abuse hotline, which is 1-800-656-4673.

Brenda Vargas:

So I know when parents are literally processing it as the words are coming out of the child's mouth and in a state of shock and feeling all kinds of whirlwind of emotions, as you mentioned, is it okay, and I think this is something that we discuss often in regards to some of these very sensitive topics, to pause and even collect your thoughts as an adult , before even responding or what is your best recommendation?

Dr. Floyd Godfrey:

No, that would be my first recommendation. Brenda, any parent, any caregivers should pause first and it's okay. Don't afraid to tell your child, whether it's a teenager, it could be a 17 year old teenager or a five-year-old. It's okay to say, I'm really not sure what we should do, but, and this is important to be able to always say, I love you. This was not your fault. I want to keep you safe. Those three messages are so important. So if you start with that and you pause and you just say, let's figure this out together, give me some time here , and trying to protect them and pause. And also then while you pause, to consider, how do I manage my emotions with some of this? How do I respond so I'm not responding in anger, or I'm not responding out of fear. I think sometimes parents move into a fear cycle and that's another whole problem. If I get scared and I'm afraid, and I start to make judgments , or I start to punish or create consequences or I set boundaries that are based on a fear response, I may make the problem worse. So it's okay to pause. In some cases you may have to take immediate action. You have to set a boundary because you got to keep your child safe. You may not want to send them back to somebody's house, or you may need to prevent them from going to school a day, but take some time to pause. So you can make an appropriate response and get yourself to help. So you can pause. You may need to talk to a counselor yourself and to figure out what should I do next, or to talk to a family member that you know is supportive or to your spouse or to a sister or best friend or someone, so that you can calm yourself to pause sufficiently to logically think, okay, what's our next step to protect my child and to help them get through this.

Brenda Vargas:

Dr. Godfrey , is it okay to acknowledge the fact that you are scared even though not responding to fear, but to acknowledge as a parent, that it has shaken you in some way?

Dr. Floyd Godfrey:

Yes. I think it's important to be authentic with your child, especially because you want your child to be authentic, so if you want that child to be open and honest, you've got to reflect that back, but you also have to remember that your child is looking to you for strength and support. They're just a kid. They don't know what to do. So it's okay if you don't know, and it's okay if you're afraid and it's okay to tell them, I'm not sure, but you have to do so with a bit of strength and be able to say what we're going to do next. I'm going to talk to grandma. I'm going to talk to a counselor so we can get this taken care of. I want you to be safe. You have to send that message because they're looking to you to protect them. And that can be hard. That's another reason you need support for yourself because you will not be scared. You might be having your own trauma response. You might be angry or anxious. So be honest, but show strength to move forward to take care of them and keep them safe.

Brenda Vargas:

I like how you acknowledge using the word safe, you know? And I think sometimes as parents or caregivers, we minimize or we don't use that term maybe as often, right? Even with, I think the younger the child we possibly may, but acknowledging that, and actually using those terms can be very comforting to any child of any age. And I think it has a good impact on them knowing you can count on me.

Dr. Floyd Godfrey:

Yes. I think it's also modeling. I just want to say Brenda, sometimes as adults, let's be honest. We don't always know what the best thing to do is, and even outside of abuse, the context of abuse, sometimes we don't know what we should do next on life problems and challenges. So it's okay to model that. But also what are my steps to get out of that? What are my steps next? We've got to model for them it's okay to be confused, but here's the direction I'm going to go to fix this? Especially, Brenda, I'll just say too , sometimes kids will internalize that the problem was about them or that they caused this or that they were somehow to blame for this. Sometimes kids, maybe they weren't where they were supposed to be when it happened. So they didn't want to get in trouble and they felt like they were part of it. Or maybe someone tricked them and sort of made it like a game. And then they didn't realize was happening or they were led to believe that because it tickled or something that it was that they liked it, or there can be all kinds of tricks. And so as a parent again, you have to be cautious that you're not blaming the child and go back to those basic things. I love you. This wasn't your fault. I know you weren't where you wer e supposed to be at the time, but that doesn't mean tha t sh ould have happened. So it wasn't your fault. We'll figure this out together and help them move forward.

Brenda Vargas:

And I really think you hit on something, right? Cause we naturally do go to blame and/or shame as we try to make sense of the situation. And even though it's not our intention to blame or shame someone, sometimes by asking more questions , it could send the wrong message to that child that's on the receiving end.

Dr. Floyd Godfrey:

Yes, absolutely, you don't want to confuse them more.

Brenda Vargas:

Yes. And I guess, if we were to give, Dr. Godfrey, a parent a tip about obviously upon discovery, it's a lot to manage and process. However , you have your child, or a child, it may not be your child, that's sitting in front of you ready and willing to share, and sometimes I think people wrestle with what to say or how to respond. And, you know, I love what you just said about giving them the message that they're loved and there was no way they could have done anything wrong to deserve this and that they're safe and so forth and so on. But if the child or the person sharing is kind of continuing to share and wanting that you get the indication or inclination that they want to share some more, what would an appropriate statement, tell me more, you know, be sufficient or how would you advise that parent or caregiver, you know, as far as their response beyond the I'm here for you, I love you. You did nothing. You know, you did nothing to deserve this. What is another quick tip that we can give a parent or caregiver as far as what words to use in addition to the ones you've mentioned?

Dr. Floyd Godfrey:

Yes. I think that open-ended questions are the best. What you just said is perfect, avoiding yes or no questions. So I wouldn't ask, well, did he do this? Did this happen ? Did that? That's too specific. I would say things like, tell me more, what happened? What else happened? How were you feeling? So how's, and why's , and what's are better than yes or no closed questions. How are you feeling or what happened next? Or just more open-ended is always going to be better.

Brenda Vargas:

And I know that in us sharing this with an adult caregiver at this time, we never expect to be in this situation, but certainly we want to be prepared just in case. Is there something that we can do as we learn and grow through our own parent experience, in raising our children that could best prepare us for this other than continuing to listen to our podcasts. Right. Cause this is the beginning of a series that we hope to educate more parents on.

Dr. Floyd Godfrey:

You're asking, what could we do to prepare if our child were to disclose?

Brenda Vargas:

Yes.

Dr. Floyd Godfrey:

That's a really good question because I will tell you that many of the youth and the kids I worked with, who don't tell their parents at first, they're often racked with shame. They feel bad about themselves. They don't know what to do. They're confused. They're racked with shame about it, but also sometimes there's a disruption already in how they connect with their mom and dad or their caregiver so that they don't always feel close or connected enough. And I know it seems a bit general, Brenda, but I always encourage parents, you need to find times with your kids where you can play, where there's no judgy, preachy stuff going on. You just need to have regular moments during the week where you can sit down and just play with your kids, have fun with them, have them see you on that kind of a level that brings kids closer to their parents , trying to avoid any preaching, any moralizing, any of that kind of stuff. Just be with them. And then , especially as they get older into teenage years and junior high school years, finding times where you can talk, because they're starting to get capable of that age of more in depth, sort of abstract thinking. And they can talk about things that are a little bit more spiritual in nature. They can talk about more abstract concepts. So it's nice at that point, to have some deeper conversations; go to coffee and sit down and just ask, how was your day? How are things going with your friends? Because they like to start talking that way. And if they feel as though you're not going to jump in and judge or criticize, it's so much easier for them to connect with you. The other thing I often tell parents, I think if you get really, especially when they're junior high and high school age, if you start to memorize their friend's names, you start to learn the music they listen to, you start to find out what they're interested in, and then you can talk on those levels. You know ? So my daughter comes home from school and I ask her, Hey, how's Jamie doing today? Or, did you listen to the latest whatever song it is? And you start talking on their level, they'll warm up to you even more, doing those few things to interact and warm your child up so they feel closer to you will make it easier for them when they're filled with shame, when they're afraid to actually tell you something. And even when they do disclose, because they feel close to you, usually they only tell you the first part, because they don't want to be embarrassed. They don't want to get in trouble. They don't want all the shame. So as close as you can create a connection with them, the better,

Brenda Vargas:

I couldn't agree with you more. And I know it becomes more challenging as they get older, especially as you mentioned during those fun teenage years, it's hard to be interested in their music when you're going to, what in the world are they talking about? However, I can say as a parent myself, I've given into Tik TOK because my goodness what's available to them and connecting when it's like, okay, mom, your hip now. Right. But I know they're just pacifying me, but you couldn't be more right. It's creating more opportunities for listening, even when they don't want to talk. Sometimes it's just giving them the space to allow them if they wanted to , to share. So I couldn't agree with you more. Dr. Godfrey. I know this is a beginning of , multiple conversations that we're going to have and we're going to share with parents and community. I just appreciate your time and your energy and the work that you're doing. So I thank you and parents, hopefully you'll join us again for another edition of CUSD cares.