Talking openly – my approach to my younger child about my daughter’s online abuse
My journey began when my husband and I became aware that my daughter had been groomed and sexually abused via the internet, which later led to images and videos being sent to over 100 people including friends, people at school and family. Me, my husband and one of our older children dealt with the situation as it unravelled, but I had other children that were a lot younger at the time. We did not hide what had happened but we made the decision that we would wait until we felt we needed to tell them.
This happened when my younger son came home from school one day angry and upset. He explained that his friends had seen images of his sister and that they had talked about her, and the images involved.
In my mind I decided, I needed to speak with my son.
I was also aware that I would need to speak with his friends. That evening I spoke with my son calmly and using simple language. I explained to him what had happened to his sister and why people had seen these images. I made him aware that at the time it happened we had not spoken to him about it, as he was young, but that we were not ashamed of the situation or that we hadn’t wanted him to know. I gave him the chance to ask questions and I also gave him names of teachers that he would be able to speak to.
I knew I wanted to speak with his friends that had teased him. I started by contacting the boys’ parents explaining what had happened that day. Most were aware of the images and had heard rumours about it and had received a basic information letter from the school at the time the images were first sent out. I asked permission to speak with the children to explain to them what had happened to my daughter and what they should do with this information. Thankfully they all agreed. The next morning, I contacted the safeguarding lead at school and informed her of what happened, and she was happy for me to speak to the boys as I had gained permission from their parents. I arranged for the boys to come over after school the next day.
That evening we ordered pizza, and myself and five young teenage boys sat down and started talking. I made a point of telling them that they were not in trouble. I asked them to tell me what they were teasing my son about. After lots of giggles and denials one of the boys spoke up. He told me that his older brother had told him about the photos and videos. Once he had finished talking, all the boys told me they had heard about them. I asked them what they thought happened, there were some interesting and some very amusing ideas!
I then sat and told them the truth, explaining what had happened and how my daughter was a victim.
I kept it short and simple, trying to use language that they would understand. I then asked the boys if there were any questions. There were lots, some sensitive, some stupid but all met with smiles and openness and answered the best I could. The same as I had with my son, I gave the boys the names of teachers and people they could go to if they needed to and assured them that I was always available to speak to.
I kept the evening as light-hearted as possible, trying to create a friendly and open atmosphere, giving the boys this space, in an environment they felt comfortable in. The boys went home happy and when speaking to my son after he said he felt relieved that his friendship group understood. My concern was that I had opened an assortment of problems, but the next day my fears were put to rest. I received text messages from the boys’ parents saying thank you for talking to them.
When my son returned home from school, he told me that one of the boys had come up to him and apologised for being rude and for making fun, explaining he hadn’t understood the whole situation.
The decision to talk to victims’ younger siblings is a difficult one, but I found that by leaving the doors of communication open from day one, allowing openness and honesty about everything, it gave my son the knowledge that he could come and speak to me about anything, knowing I would be truthful and non-judgemental.