Home > Kids > Childhood Safety > Physical and Sexual Abuse > When Sexual Abuse Is Suspected

Expert Iconexpert advice MORE

When Sexual Abuse Is Suspected

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: Several family members I am working with suspect that their niece was sexually abused by her father. The girl, who is now 18, says she hates him and will not allow her little sister to be left alone with him. Her mother seems to be unaware of the situation. This needs to be addressed, but the family members are concerned this will damage family relationships if it is not true. How do you suggest they proceed?

A: From your letter, it appears that you are serving this family in some form of a counseling role. The fact that this 18-year-old girl has such hatred for her father, and that she will do anything in her power to keep her little sister from being alone in his presence, strongly suggests that the 18-year-old was sexually abused by her father and that she is trying to protect her little sister. I must add, however, since I know nothing about this family, that one also has to entertain the possibility that the 18-year-old daughter's hatred of her father may stem from things other than his having sexually abused her.

Right now there are suspicions and behavior that do warrant attention.

The fear of "damaging family relationships" should not deter the exploration of this 18-year-old's behavior toward her little sister and her father. Dark family secrets are always better exposed than perpetuated.

I would recommend that a skilled family therapist who has treated sexual abuse within families begin treating this family. It is important that the 18-year-old bond with and trust this therapist, as she is the one who has sent up the red flags about possible sexual abuse by her father.

This is a most sensitive matter and the choice of therapist(s) is crucial to helping this family. The family, and especially the older daughter, must interview therapists until they find the right match for themselves.

Life should not continue for this family amidst the ongoing suspicions of paternal sexual abuse and the older daughter's frantic attempts to keep her younger sister away from her father. Intervention is needed now. Please help this family get the best professional assistance as soon as possible. Thank you for helping a family in need.

More on: Expert Advice

Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.


Special Books for the Kids You Love
Celebrate 20 years of sharing love to the moon and back with the anniversary edition of Guess How Much I Love You, one of the world’s best-loved picture books. Plus, search our Book Finder for more great book picks. Brought to you by Candlewick Press.

Vote Now for the Children's & Teen Choice Book Awards
Voting is open now through May 3 for the Children's and Teen Choice Book Awards — the only national book awards program where the winning author, illustrator, and books of the year are selected by young readers. Encourage your child to vote for his favorites today!

Top 10 Math & Science Apps for Your Whiz Kid
Looking for the best math and science apps for kids? Check out these cool apps for all ages, which will grow your child's love of the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and math).

Registered for Kindergarten — Now What?
Wondering what to do now that you've signed your child up for kindergarten? Try our award-winning Kindergarten Readiness app! This easy-to-use checklist comes with games and activities to help your child build essential skills for kindergarten. Download the Kindergarten Readiness app today!

stay connected

Sign up for our free email newsletters and receive the latest advice and information on all things parenting.

Enter your email address to sign up or manage your account.

Facebook icon Facebook icon Follow Us on Pinterest

editor’s picks