Dear Dr. Archer,
I have a friend who has a four year old son, and she and her child stay with her step-father. She is starting to have suspicions that her step-father has or is touching her son inappropriately, and possibly has molested the child.
One day her son did not want to stay at home with the step-father. He said, "He's going to touch me." He was three years old at that time, and shortly afterwards is when her suspicions began. Wow. What does she do in a situation like this? Her son's father is not involved with the child and my friend has nowhere else to go.
She refuses to leave her son alone with the step-father at all costs, but just the thought that it might have happened and could still be happening enrages my friend greatly. I guess the advice I'm looking for is, if there's any action this friend can take to find out the truth. She needs to know or it will haunt her forever.
Can you court order a lie detector test, or is there any way to find out the truth? Please help.
If your friend is suspicious that this guy is molesting her child, SHE SHOULD REMOVE HER CHILD FROM THE PREMISES IMMEDIATELY. You, can offer her a place to say, or one of her family members. But she must protect her child at all costs.
Live in a women's shelter; anything is better than keeping him in an unsafe environment. I suggest you do everything to help your friend out with this, Karyn.
Next, your friend needs to talk to her son directly, and this should be done somewhere that he feels safe and comfortable, when her step-father is nowhere around. She should ask him if anyone has touched him in a way that did not feel okay or made him uncomfortable. Keep in mind it is difficult for any child, even more so for boys, to admit being abused.
If the child says something that concerns his mom, she should follow up and ask further questions about it, being sure not to make him feel shamed or that he could be in trouble.
If she has not done so already, she should stress that she loves him more than anything, and they should never have secrets between them. The reason I say this is because many abusers tell the child that it is "their secret," to be shared just between them.
If everything turns out okay, her son should know that he should always tell his mom if anyone does anything that makes him uncomfortable. She also should teach him that some parts of his body are private, and if anyone would touch his private parts, he should tell her right away. With all this, at least your friend lays down the groundwork for future conversations, no matter what the topic.
IF, Karyn, she finds out that her son was molested by this individual, her reaction will have a huge effect on how her son deals with the trauma. If she is supportive, he will heal much more quickly. If she becomes angry or out of control, it will only make it more difficult for him. She must stay calm while discussing with him.
If her son tells her inappropriate things have happened to him, she is to immediately report it to child protection. Understand that this is not an automatic guilty verdict, they will conduct their own evaluation and they can suggest a therapist for both of you if they feel it is necessary.
She can gather more information from the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1.800.4ACHILD, (1.800.422.4453) on what steps to take.
Forget trying to take matters into her own hands by court ordering a lie detector test; that's for the experts to determine, and a lie detector cannot be forced upon anyone. He can volunteer to help clear his name, but he can't be forced.