Dear Steph – My daughter was assaulted.

Can you advise how to communicate with my 15 year old daughter after sexual assault as we’re trying everything and failing, suicide attempts, self harm….She’s missing so much school she’s withdrawn but still wants to go out all the time with friends. We’ve got counselling through the police and school. Trying to just be there for her and show love and understanding but it’s affecting the whole family her younger sibling is self harming as she sees her doing it and thinks that’s how you handle things. I should have protected her but I’ve let her down.

Dad – East Anglia Uk

Dear Dad,

First and foremost I’d like to express my sincere apologies for what you and your family are going through right now. I can only imagine how traumatic this must be for each and every one of you. I’m really pleased to read your daughter has been referred for counselling, as someone specialist in this field will be paramount to her healing. With regards to her still wanting to go out with friends, I imagine it might come from a place of craving normality. Her friends will likely be carrying on as normal to some degree, where as you as her parents are understandably concerned and unable to ignore the enormity of what she’s been through. Many victims of sexual assault will feel misplaced shame in relation to the attack, and this can have an impact on familial relationships. I am not a mother of teens but I have been a female teenager who suffered with her mental health, during a time when sexually inappropriate behaviour was common place. My advice is purely based on me empathising with your daughter and not from experience or professionalism. I personally wouldn’t advise forcing her to talk, it may be simply that she isn’t ready yet, or hasn’t fully processed what happened to her. I do recommend that when she is ready, having frank and honest conversations about the assault. Acknowledging that it happened and was extremely traumatic for her, may be an important part of her healing. It sounds as though she is unsurprisingly experiencing extreme emotions around the incident. There is a particular type of therapy I have found really useful for emotional regulation. It’s called Dialectal Behavioural Therapy and is focused on coping with uncomfortable emotions and better managing the effects of them. It really helped me with intrusive thoughts and extreme anxiety and panic attacks. It could be worth asking your GP to refer your daughter or looking to see if there is anywhere that offers sessions in your area. I would also suggest that if you are ever concerned about your daughter taking her own life or attempting to, calling 999 or taking her to A&E. Many GP’s are proving, in my opinion, quite useless recently, so if you’re ever concerned for her mental health and aren’t getting support from them, hospital is the next place to try. I understand that might not be what any of you want, but my experience of being in hospital for my mental health actually turned out to be a really positive one. I believe it saved my life. Your daughter may need trauma counselling alongside DBT so still accept the offers from the police and school. Additionally I want to address what you’ve mentioned about feeling as though you’ve let her down and didn’t protect her. I have heard this being a really common thought process for loved ones of victims, but I need to stress that you are not responsible. You are clearly a loving and concerned father and everything you are feeling right now is valid. But you cannot take the blame for someone else’s actions. You didn’t cause this, you didn’t allow it to happen, and you are not in any way shape or form to blame. I think every parent on the planet wants to protect their children at all times but unfortunately it’s not possible for us to do so. Please if you take nothing else from this response, know this is NOT your fault. I hope that the police are providing you ALL with support, but if not please ask your doctor for help or talk to someone you trust. Lastly in relation to your younger child, I would recommend trying to access counselling for them too and having a chat with their school to see if they can offer some support. I’ve listed below support services that may be able to help you further. You may already be aware of some of them.

Young Victims provide support for both victims and families.

Young Minds could be well placed to support your younger child to process what’s going on in the family.

Give us a shout offer free and completely confidential text support to anyone struggling to cope. This may be useful for yourself and your daughter.

Rape Crisis England and Wales these guys have some useful resources for supporting a loved one.

Finally, I’d like to wish you and your family healing and hope. Please know you are not alone, you are not to blame and you are doing everything you possibly can to help your daughter. Being strong for our children isn’t easy and in these circumstances I can’t begin to imagine how difficult it must be for you. I hope that with the right support your daughter and your family will be able to heal.

Take good care of yourself.

Steph x