When The People You Trust Are Unwilling to Protect You

This blog is about protecting children and young adults and being willing to defend them in difficult situations. The fictional scenario I am going to discuss is about a child being sexually assaulted. The scenario is not real, but it is based on the experiences of many people I have spoken to over the years.

The discussion is brief and does not cover everything, but hopefully it covers the most important aspects of the scenario.


Jamie is 7 and lives with her parents. Her father’s best friend comes around often and stays over. The last time he stayed over he touched Jamie inappropriately by putting his hand under her dress and into her undies. Jamie is upset and tells her mother and father.

What happens next can be very different depending on the reaction of Jamie’s parents.

Response 1

Jamie’s parents are upset at the friend. They support Jamie. They listen to her, reassure her and get her counselling help. They also report the matter to the police. The friend is never allowed to see the family ever again.

Response 2

Jamie’s parents are horrified and tell the friend he is not to visit any more. Nothing more is said about it. When Jamie tries to talk about it she is shut down and told there is no need to talk about that anymore.

Response 3

Jamie’s parents are horrified and the father contacts his friend and tells him to not visit any more. He meets up with the friend, who tells him he didn’t do anything and he is appalled at the way they have believed their daughter’s lies. Her father comes home and tells her she is to apologise to his friend and that he will continue coming to the house.

Response 4

Jamie’s parents tell her to stop making something out of nothing. She obviously encouraged him and she has to stop this behaviour. Her mother tells her she must avoid the friend and shut her bedroom door at night when he is there.

Different Responses

4 very different responses to a sexual assault, a violation of her boundaries, and being placed in a very unsafe situation.

All these have happened to people time and again.

The message these reactions give Jamie have long lasting impacts on her life.

Impacts on Jamie’s life

There are many ways this event can impact on Jamie. Below is a summary of what may happen.

Response 1

Jamie feels safe, supported and heard. She learns she is not to blame. She feels her parents are willing to step up to support her and protect her from events in the world. She also learns that she can set healthy boundaries and she has worth because her parent’s have put her needs first.

Response 2

Jamie feels believed and heard. She is okay, but there are lingering issues around processing the abuse.

Response 3

Jamie feels betrayed and confused. She can’t understand why she has to apologise to the friend for the thing he did that made her uncomfortable. Her boundaries have been violated but she is given the message that she has no right to set boundaries. She realises her father will put others first before her. She learns from his actions that she has no value.

Jamie may disengage from life over the coming years. Her engagement with school may be impacted. She may also start exhibiting acting out behaviours.

Response 4

Jamie feels unsafe and unprotected. She learns she has no value and that she is always wrong. Her boundaries have been violated and she learns that her boundaries are non existent. That she has not right to say no. She learns she has no worth to others.

Jamie may also disengage from family life and engagement with school. She may misbehave, become defiant, get involved with petty crime, car thefts, dangerous driving and other “antisocial” behaviours.

When might Jamie present for counselling?

In each response I may see Jamie. But it will be at different life stages and the issues Jamie presents with will be different.

Response 1

I may see Jamie to help her process the incident with the father’s friend. She will have a chance to understand and process what happened. If nothing else happens in Jamie’s life, it is unlikely I will ever see her again.

Response 2

I may see Jamie later in life. She may have some PTSD around the events. There may be feelings of shame around what happened. She may find engaging in social contact with males difficult. She may require a number of counselling sessions to process this and rewire the neural pathways in her brain that are connected with the event. It is possible Jamie may not even know what the source of her difficulties is. She may only identify this in therapy.

How could Jamie’s parents have helped at the time of the original incident? By listening to her and helping her to understand she did nothing wrong. By allowing her to express herself and being open to her continuing need to process this.

Response 3

Jamie will usually come to see me later in life. She will likely present with difficulty setting boundaries, even to the point of not realising she has the right to set boundaries. She may report finding it hard to say no to people. She may have put on weight to stop men noticing her (there is a lot of research around this well recognised issue).

Jamie will most likely have very low self worth. She will also feel a lot of shame. She may have difficulties in her relationships. Either getting involved in partners who don’t respect her boundaries, or ending relationships because she feels she is not respected.

Jamie may also find she is constantly trying to gain her father’s approval, or she may have a difficult relationship with her father.
In time she may tell me about the assault.

Response 4

Jamie may come to see me later in life. She may tell me she has difficulties with relationships. She may well be anxious and constantly trying to meet the needs of the people in her life. She may have put on weight to stop men noticing her.

She will most likely have low self worth. She will also feel shame.

Summing Up

These descriptions are very brief descriptions of what may happen to Jamie as a result of sexual assault when 7. The long term impacts of sexual assault are many and complicated.

The message I am sending is that any form of touching in no go areas is sexual assault. It will leave the victim feeling uncomfortable and violated. It is up to those they turn to for help to protect them and take a stand against the perpetrator. If you are one who feels unable to protect those in your care from perpetrators then it is important you seek counselling support to heal your own difficulties.

Jamie may well have been 15 or 25, or older. Instead of parents, she may have been seeking support from friends. There will still be impacts of any non consensual sexual contact.

When someone reports a sexual assault they need to know that those people in their life who can protect them, are willing to protect them. This is particularly so when the person is a child or young.

Sadly, many parents do not support their children in these situations. I have heard so many stories of children forced to go to the abuser’s home because their story was not believed and the parents were unwilling to protect their child.

Parents are supposed to protect us from harm. The betrayal when they won’t is horrendous.

Can I Help?

If anything in this blog has struck a chord with you, or has left you feeling you need to resolve a difficulty in your life, I can help you.

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

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