What to Say When a Child Discloses Sexual Abuse

by Abuse, Wisdom, Wisdom Podcasts0 comments

It’s terrible to imagine, but sexual abuse of children is more common than you might know. Estimates say that one in four girls and one in six boys will experience some form of sexual assault by the time they are 18 years old.

Many survivors of sexual abuse prefer to stay anonymous. But one woman has chosen to step into the public eye: Rachael Denhollander.  Rachael’s personal experience with childhood sexual abuse has fueled her desire to become an advocate for those who have suffered the trauma of sexual assault.

We were privileged to witness Rachael share her story with audience members of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Ottawa County’s “Advocates in Action” luncheon.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story, Rachael was the first person to publicly accuse Michigan-based gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar of sexual abuse. Rachael began to see Larry Nassar for treatment shortly after her 15th birthday and was sexually assaulted by him under the guise of medical treatment for nearly a year.

Rachael is now in her early thirties, married, and a mother. She’s a licensed attorney who continues to advocate for victims of sexual abuse.  Since testifying against Larry Nassar in January of 2018, she continues to speak publicly to confront the societal dynamics that made it possible for a sexual predator to abuse women and children for more than 20 years.

Our ministry’s founder, Karen Mulder, asked Rachael what someone should say if a child discloses that he or she has been sexually abused. Rachael says the most important thing to understand is that we should grieve with the child— “Help them grieve their wound in a non-destructive way,” says Rachael.

Helpful phrases include:

  • I am sorry this happened to you
  • What they did was wrong
  • I want to help you
  • I believe you
  • It’s not your fault
  • You are valued

Thank you, Rachael, for sharing your wisdom with us.

For more information on the topic of how to help children affected by sexual abuse, see Rachael’s keynote address (which starts at minute 18:55 of the video) in this informative, passionate and hopeful YouTube video of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Ottawa County’s Advocates in Action luncheon.

Karen Mulder

Karen Mulder

Karen Mulder is the founder of the Wisdom of the Wounded ministry. She lives in Holland, Michigan with her husband Larry.


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