Distraught Mother

Friday, April 23, 2010

Question

I took my daughter to the doctor because she complained that her private area was hurting her. My gynecologist did a very thorough series of tests and called me today to let me know that she has gonorrhea. This means that a report has to be filed with Child Protective Services because it is evidence she has been abused. I am beyond upset. First of all, I am angry on my daughter's behalf and can't understand how somebody could hurt her. I feel guilty because I should have protected her. And I am afraid of what is about to happen to our family as we are "investigated." I feel pulled in all these different directions trying to take care of everybody. What should I do for my daughter? My husband is not being very much help with all of this. We were already having problems in our marriage.

Answer

Every adult male who has had time alone with your daughter will be suspected of abusing her. That includes your husband. Get tested yourself. Women infected with gonorrhea often have no symptoms. Insist that he get tested as well. This could answer some important questions.

Get legal representation. Find someone experienced in family law who can explain your rights and the investigative process. Every county or province has a different set of procedures. A lot of people are going to want to talk to your daughter. But repeating this process could be traumatic for her. Find out if there is any way to get one interview with her videotaped, so that she can be spared that repetitive stress. Social workers and the police may not accept this, so be prepared to support and comfort her. Tell her she should just tell the truth, and she didn't do anything wrong. Explain that there was an adult who did somebody wrong, but there was no way she could have known it was bad. The people who are talking to her are just trying to help her so they can find out who did this so it won't happen again.

Get a therapist for her, someone who is able to be objective and put your daughter's welfare first. If the abuse was not painful, or if she was exploited by somebody she knows and trusts, she may not realize that anything "bad" happened. It's important to try to find out who the perpetrator of the abuse was without leaving her scared of all adults or confused about the goodness of her own body. A skilled child therapist may be able to help you have a productive conversation with your daughter about what her boundaries should be when adults want to touch or handle her body.

Chances are that you will be able to keep custody of your daughter. I hope your husband is exonerated of wrong-doing, and your family can remain intact. Give yourself some credit for taking this seriously. Some parents would remain in denial even after a diagnosis. You may want to examine your daughter's routine with her therapist to see if there is anything you could have done or anything you should change to offer her more protection. But you are not the person who took advantage of her. So don't beat yourself up, or you won't have the strength left that you will need to get through this crisis.

With the right support from loving adult caretakers, children who have experienced abuse do heal from the trauma. You are going to do everything you can to allow your daughter to get through this without suffering harmful effects for the rest of her life. And that's a goal you can probably meet.

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