How to Tell Someone You Were Sexually Abused as a Child

You need to tell someone that you survived rape or sexual abuse, but how? Here’s how to say the words “I was sexually abused as a child” or “My uncle or brother or father molested me.” It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. You are a survivor; you will find healing and strength if you learn how to tell someone you were raped.

These tips were inspired by a reader’s comment on my article about sexual assault and relationships. “My problem isn’t my boyfriend, it’s my mom. I was raped by my older brother when I was 10 years old,” says Courtney on You Were Raped and Your Boyfriend Can’t Cope – What to Do. “He also molested my little brother but I didn’t know that until recently. I haven’t told anybody about the childhood sexual abuse, not even my mom and dad, because I didn’t know how to say it. Now that my little brother told me what my older brother did to him, I want to tell my mom we were molested but I don’t know how.”

Remember that you are a survivor! You experienced something terrible that no child should ever have to go through. Childhood sexual abuse is horrible, scary, and not fair. And it’s definitely not your fault, no matter what he told you. But guess what? You survived, and you will heal. You may have wanted to die at the time, you may have felt dirty and ashamed and worthless…but you are here. Alive. Take a deep breath, and feel a new life start to unfold within you.

You will Blossom into the woman God created you to be. Rape and child sexual assault may not have been part of His plan for your life, but He will use what happened in ways that will surprise you.

I am writing this article not just for Courtney (my reader who commented on the article about a boyfriend not being able to cope with a girlfriend’s rape). I’m also writing it for a 16-year-old young woman who recently told me that her brother started sexually abusing her since she was 10 years old. She hadn’t told anyone about it, partly because he told her that brothers and sisters do those things together. Her brother told her sexual abuse and rape is normal in a family.

How to Tell Someone You Were Raped or Sexually Abused

You’re here, and I’m glad.

child sex abuse survivor how to tell rape

How to Tell Someone You Were Sexually Abused as a Child

Somewhere deep down you know that telling someone – your mom, your dad, your boyfriend, a teacher or counselor – is the best way to cope with the rape or child sexual abuse. Talking and writing about your experience will help you heal.

“I know you’re in a world of pain, but that pain will lessen. At the beginning you can’t see that,” writes Ellen Bass, a survivor of child sexual abuse. “You can only see your pain and you think it will never go away. But the nature of pain is that it changes – it changes like a sunset. At first, it’s this intense red-orange in the sky, and then it starts getting softer and soften. The texture of pain changes as you work through it. And then one day, you wake up and realize that life isn’t just about working through your incest; it’s about living, too.”

Focus on the reason you need to tell someone about the rape

My 16-year-old friend – I’ll call her Jane – feels like she needs to tell her mom about the sexual abuse she survived because her younger brother also experienced the same thing. My friend said she would not tell her mom about the rape if it had only happened to her. But now that she knows her older brother is molesting her younger brother, she wants to protect him. She asked me how to tell her mom or someone that her older brother is a rapist because she loves her little brother.

Maybe the reason you need to know how to tell someone about the childhood sexual abuse or rape you experienced has nothing to do with protecting a younger brother or other girls from child sexual abuse. This is okay! You had good reasons not to tell anyone you were raped, and now you have good reasons to start telling someone about the child sexual abuse you survived.

The most important reason to tell someone you were raped as a child is for your own healing and growth. If you keep this secret locked inside of you, it will grow bigger blacker and uglier. It will gain enough power to kill your soul and destroy your spirit. Do not let the darkness win.

Hold on to the truth, the light, the life and the power

If you keep hiding and holding on to your secret, it will torment you with pain and suffering. But you will slowly heal if you learn how to tell someone “I was raped as a child and I am a survivor of sexual abuse.” It may always sting to say those words, but you will heal.

How to Tell Someone You Were Sexually Abused Raped as a Child“The truth about our childhood is stored up in our body, and although we can repress it, we can never alter it,” writes Ellen Bass and Laura Davis in The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse. “Our intellect can be deceived, our feelings manipulated, our perceptions confused, and our body tricked with medication. But someday the body will present its bill, for it is as incorruptible as a child who, still whole in spirit, will accept no compromises or excuses, and it will not stop tormenting us until we stop evading the truth.”

The Courage to Heal is an inspiring, comprehensive book that will give you hope and healing if you were sexually abused as a child. Although the effects of child sexual abuse are long-term and severe, healing is possible. Authors Ellen Bass and Laura Davis weave together personal experience with rape and childhood sexual assault with professional knowledge. They provide clear explanations and practical suggestions for healing from the trauma of molestation, and offer support throughout the healing process. In this book, you’ll also read hundreds of moving first-person stories drawn from interviews and the authors’ extensive work with rape and sexual assault survivors, both nationally and internationally.

Don’t shove away the pain of being raped or sexually assaulted

In How I Survived an Attempted Rape in My Bedroom, I describe how I got away from a rapist who attacked me in the middle of the night in my own bedroom. I also describe how I grieved and got over the pain of being sexually assaulted in my own home.

When my friend Jane told me that there are worse things that could happen then sexual abuse as a child, she was dishonoring her own feelings of grief and pain. That is, she wasn’t allowing herself to fully grieve and feel the weight of the horrible thing that happened to her.

How do you feel about the sexual abuse you experienced? You may feel like you’re in a very dark, painful place right now. My heart goes out to you, just like my heart went out to my friend Jane. She has to deal with stuff she should never have to deal with as a 16-year-old girl. She knows things she should never have to know. It is wrong and it is sad.

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You, too, know things that no child should ever have to know. If you’d like to share your story in the comments section below, I’d love to hear from you. Even if you don’t write about it here I encourage you to write about it in your own private journal or some other safe place. Writing your of being raped and surviving child sexual abuse will not only help you heal, it will also help you learn how to tell someone what you experienced.

Practice talking about child sexual abuse

The more you talk about being raped, the easier it will get. The more you say the words “I was sexually molested when I was a child”, the easier it will be to tell the truth. So, one of the best ways to learn how to tell your mom or someone else that you are raped is simply by practicing.

Who have you told about the rape? If you feel like you cannot tell anyone you know, practice saying it out loud somewhere by yourself. Go for a walk somewhere alone and tell your story. I think writing is one of the most important ways to survive and even thrive after child sexual abuse and rape, but talking about it out loud – even by yourself – is one of the best ways to learn how to tell someone what happened to you.

Write a letter instead of telling someone in words that you were abused

Jane and I talked about writing her mom a letter instead of telling her face to face. I encouraged her to write down everything she remembers and feels about the experience of being raped by her older brother. I also told her to write down her feelings about her younger brother being sexually molested by her older brother. She doesn’t have to give her mom the letters if she would rather tell her about the rape in person. But if she has the letter with her she will be more likely to tell everything that happened instead of letting her mom’s response change what she planned to say.

Here’s what one rape survivor says:

How to Tell Someone You Were Raped or Sexually Abused as a Child

How to Tell Someone You Were Raped or Sexually Abused as a Child

“Write your mom a letter and give it to her,” says Au on How Do I Tell My Parents I Was Raped? “You can even put it in the mailbox. I know it’s not the best way to tell someone that you were raped, but tell her in the letter that you just couldn’t say the words out loud. That you can’t look her in the eye. I know what you’re going through, I was sexually abused as a child. I told my sister when I was drunk over the phone very late at night. We don’t speak about it because she knows I don’t want to. I’m the type I handle it better when it’s just forgotten and never spoke of again.

You need to tell someone that you were raped so it’s not all in your head all the time. It’s very dangerous to bottle it up. I did that and I pushed myself to suicide. After two attempts I opened up and I’m so much better now. Physically you’re healed, but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually you haven’t even begun to heal yet. Take care of yourself sweetie. Let your mom help you heal.”

Be aware of the different ways people will respond to you

After Jane and I talked about her older brother molesting her, we talked about how to tell her mom about the sexual abuse. Jane is scared and worried about how her mom will react. She doesn’t know what she wants her mom to do to her older brother. She doesn’t know how her mom will protect her younger brother from more sexual abuse in the future. She doesn’t know what she wants to happen; she just knows she needs to tell her mom about the rapes.

This may be an unexpectedly difficult part of telling someone you were raped or sexually abused as a child: his or her response. Hearing the secret of child sexual abuse is painful for anyone…especially a mother! If you are telling your mom that your brother molested you, she may freak out. Why? Because she loves you, she loves your brother, and even if she suspected it was happening, it will break her heart.

Responses you might get:

  • Shock and/or denial.
  • Crying, sobbing.
  • Anger because you didn’t say anything about the rape or child sexual abuse sooner.
  • Warmth and support.
  • Anger and blame.
  • Confusion.
  • Feelings of betrayal.
  • Encouragement or insistence that you get counseling or attend a rape survivors support group.

It’s not fair that you have to deal with their emotional response to your experience (in addition to you having to deal with the actual sexual abuse)…but the hard truth is that whoever you tell may not be able to cope well. When Jane told me that she had been sexually molested by her older brother for the past six years, my first response was, “Shit!” Because I already knew. She had hinted that her brother was hurting her three years ago, and when I asked if her brother was raping or sexually abusing her, she just cried. She couldn’t tell me that she was being molested. She couldn’t say the words, she didn’t know how to tell someone she was raped.

Hearing that a child you love had to experience sexual abuse and rape is difficult. So, while it doesn’t seem fair, you need to give the person you’re telling time and space to process the shock, anger, and grief of what happened to you.

How do you feel right now? Please feel free to share any of your thoughts and feelings below. What do you need? Who can you talk to? Where can you go to get help? If you feel alone and unwanted, read 7 Things to Remember When You Feel Like No One Cares.

I can’t offer advice or counseling on how to survive or talk about rape or sexual assault, but I’d be honored to hear your story. And, I believe writing will help you heal and deal with the pain you’re facing.

Resources for survivors of child rape and sexual abuse

How to Tell Someone You Were Raped or Sexually Abused as a ChildIn It Wasn’t Your Fault Freeing Yourself From the Shame of Childhood Abuse, therapist and childhood abuse expert Beverly Engel presents a mindfulness and compassion-based therapeutic approach to help you overcome the debilitating shame that keeps you tied to the past.

Shame is one of the most destructive of human emotions. If you suffered childhood physical or sexual abuse, you may experience such intense feelings of shame that it almost seems to define you as a person. In order to begin healing, it’s important for you to know that it wasn’t your fault.

With this book, you’ll learn how to develop the skills needed to finally put a stop the crippling self-blame that keeps you from moving on and being happy. You’ll learn to focus on your strengths, your courage, and your extraordinary ability to survive. Most of all, you’ll learn to replace shame with its counter emotion—pride.
Read . In that article, you’ ll learn how to.

While I can’ offer advice on how to tell someone that you were raped or surviving sexual abuse as a child, I do read every comment. I encourage you to share your experience. Writing will help you get through the pain and shock of what happened to you, and can help you get healthy and strong again.

Your thoughts are welcome below! I don't give advice, but you can get free relationship help from marriage coach Mort Fertel.


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12 thoughts on “How to Tell Someone You Were Sexually Abused as a Child

  • Laurie Post author

    Dear Ashley,
    I’m glad you spoke up here, and that you said your dad is sexually assaulting you! You are brave and courageous for speaking out, and for searching for help. It takes guts to say something — and you are doing the right thing by reaching out.
    It’s important to get in-person help, to talk to someone face to face. Start by calling a sexual abuse hotline. If that is too much, talk to someone you trust. Your boyfriend cares about you, but he may not know how to help you. This is why it’s important to talk to someone who has experience with sexual abuse in families. They know what you’re going through, and how to help you start healing.
    How are you today? What’s going on for you?
    – Laurie

  • Ashley

    My father had been sexually assaulting me since my freshman year of high school. I don’t know what to do, and I don’t know how to tell my boyfriend….I need help..

  • natasha

    Looking at the pros and cons sure makes telling a no go…
    I have dealt with this almost totally on my own for many years.
    I’ve considered telling my mom, but backed out many times.
    I’m not sure if she knows, but I feel like I have grown as a person by not telling.
    Other people know, I’m fine now, mostly.

  • Laurie Post author

    Dear hey,

    I’m glad you shared your story here! You’ve been through so much with your brother — and yes, it is considered rape. You didn’t know what he was doing, and that is understandable.

    My little sister’s brother sexually assaulted her for a long time, too. She didn’t talk about it until she was 16, when she finally told her secret to me, her friends, and eventually her mom. The only way to heal and move on is to talk about being abused as a child. Don’t rely on online articles about childhood sexual abuse, because you need in-person help.

    Who is the first person you would tell? Someone you trust, who can help you get support. It won’t be easy to talk about your brother abusing you, but it is so important. Don’t ignore your pain, guilt, shame — it’s time to come out into the light! Now that you know that your brother was raping you, you have the power to step out in faith and tell someone you trust. Maybe this is a close friend, or a family member. Maybe it’s a counselor or social worker — it doesn’t have to be someone you personally know. Just tell one person.

    You might even write down what you want to say to someone you trust, when you tell them your brother sexually abused you. Write your feelings, practice what you want to say, ask for help in writing. The more you get it out of you, the better you’ll feel. You’ll start to heal. It’ll be painful, yes….but this is the only way forward, my friend.

    Can you talk to one person you trust? You are in my thoughts and prayers. May you be filled with strength, healing, wisdom, courage, and power. May you fall on God’s love and strength when you feel weak. And may you step out in faith so you can heal and let go of the past.

    With the love of Jesus,

  • hey

    I was sexually abused by my brother when I was in the second grade. I am now 16 and I’m finally starting to feel the effects of what happened. I was raised in a Christian household my entire life, but my brother secretly had sex with me… every. single. day. At the time it was 100% consensual because I didn’t know what incest was or even what sex was. This went on for months until I learned that premarital sex was a sin and I tried to tell him to stop, but he didn’t take it well at all. We haven’t had sex since, but my brother always told me from a young age “if you sin once, you’re going to hell.” And being a second grader, I believed him. I believed I screwed myself over for the rest of eternity and that is an absolutely disgusting thought that I thought about every single day for years. Obviously now, I know that that is not the case, but him telling me that absolutely broke me. He is only about 2 1/2 years older than me and yes it was consensual, so I still don’t know if what I went through is rape or not. I have not told anyone and I absolutely refuse to tell my parents because it would break their hearts. They’re the sweetest people on earth and I don’t think they would ever believe me. It has been hurting me so much lately because my brother was supposed to leave for an out of state college a few months ago, but he decided to stay here for God knows how much longer. He’s manipulative and rude and a liar and I just can’t be near him anymore. I honestly don’t know if this is considered rape because I haven’t heard any stories similar to my own, so anyone please tell me your honest opinion. I just need someone to tell me the truth, so I can get over it. I didn’t know what I was doing and I regret it more than I can even comprehend. I didn’t even know what I was doing. Someone help me.

  • Laurie Post author

    Dear Caroline,

    Thank you for being here – and for sharing how you were sexually abused by your brother! I hear you. I can feel your shame and guilt, as well as your love for your son and your nieces. You’re right to want to protect them. Nobody protected or saved you from your brother, and that is tragic. It’s terrible, and I am so sorry you had to live through that.

    But now you have the power to step out in faith! Your first step is to tell one person you trust. Maybe this is a close friend, or a family member. Maybe it’s a counselor or social worker — it doesn’t have to be someone you personally know. Just tell one person. Remember that you don’t have to swoop in and tear your nieces’ family apart….just talk to one person.

    Can you do that? Take a deep breath, and exhale slowly. Tell one person about your brother sexually abusing you. Talk about how angry you are — because it wasn’t right and it’s not fair.

    And, talk to one person about what happened to you when you were a child, and what you fear is happening to other children. Just talk. That’s all you need to do right now.

    Can you do that, Caroline? You are in my thoughts and prayers. May you be filled with strength, healing, wisdom, courage, and power. May you fall on God’s love and strength when you feel weak. And may you step out in faith — not for you, but for the children. For the child you were, and the little girl you still are inside.

    How are you doing?

    With the love of Jesus,

  • Caroline

    I was sexually abused by my brother in law from the time I was 12 until I was almost 16. I have repressed this horrible experience for so long. The shame and guilt I felt about myself have affected me greatly.

    My confidence,self esteem, sense of worth and my innocence were taken away. I am angry now. The guilt he and shame I have felt have been apart of who I am fo so long. I am an adult now with a 6 year little boy of my own. I sometimes look at his sweet innocent face and purity of heart and I wonder how anyone could take this away from a child. Who has the right to do that. I am mad. I have kept this hidden from my own nieces who have children of their own that abuser watches once a week. My sister has been divorced from him for many years. I need to tell. I do not no what to do. I feel an obligation to these innocent, sweet children. Help me

  • Laurie Post author

    Thank you for being here, and sharing your experience as a survivor of sexual abuse! It’s a difficult thing to talk about — even just thinking about it causes pain, doesn’t it?

    It’s important that you reach out and get help in person. I’m glad you’re here, and it’s brave of you to write about being raped. But you need to tell someone in person. Someone who is supportive, who can help you heal and cope with the consequences of this trauma.

    Who can you talk to in person? Sometimes the best thing is to reach out to a rape survivors helpline, so you can be anonymous.

    You deserve to heal, grow, and Blossom into a healthy and happy person! And you will — but you have to get good help and support in person.

    Can you do this?

  • alice

    I finally told my 86 year old mother about my brother molesting me and then at the age of 11 he raped me and tried to rape my older sister. It all started when I was 4 my sister 5 and our brother 9. My moms first words were , “what did you do, just sit there?” I feel like she has always known and tries to hide the fact that our brother is a predator, she stays quite to protect him and gives a crap for her two daughters! I feel like we never reallly had our moms love nor our brother. Our dad died in his sixties and we never told him for he had a temper and we were scared.
    cant wrap my heart or head around this.

  • Grace

    But I have a problem with this… I need some serious help… I am a 16 year old girl who may or may not have been raped by my older cousin. Not only him, but if it is true it had happened on two occasions at least and the second time it was a gang bang with him and I don’t know how many of his friends. I have been through so much abuse throughout my life that I don’t know what is real anymore… I was only around six at the time, and yet when I think back I think I actually liked it at the time. Like, what the actual hell is wrong with me? The reason I don’t know if it actually happened is because I don’t know if my messed up mind made it up or not! Oh god, I am disgusting… I don’t even know which cousin it was because it was so long ago and I only started remembering since about a year ago. I don’t know if I should tell anyone. Its either the cousin that is in juvy for murder with his mom so it won’t matter if I tell anyone or (I really think it is this cousin) the one who is married and has a kid now and a good life. If it is him then I would ruin his new life from a stupid past mistake that I very well might have encouraged. I can’t do that! Someone please help me…….

  • Laurie Post author

    Dear Anonymous Girl,

    My heart goes out to you. I am so sorry that you are sexually abused by her older brother when you were a young girl. That’s a terrible experience to have lived through, and there are no easy or quick ways to heal from something like that. You didn’t deserve to be raped, and you couldn’t have done anything to prevent it.

    It takes a lot of courage to tell your boyfriend that you are assaulted sexually by your brother. You are very brave to talk to him about it! It sounds like your boyfriend loves you very much, but he doesn’t know how to handle the situation with your brother. He wants to make things right, but he doesn’t know how.

    You are not in the wrong for not doing more about your brother. You need to do what feels best and right for you, and your boyfriend has to learn his own boundaries. I know he loves you and he wants to do right by you, but he is making a mistake by pushing you to do something you’re not comfortable doing.

    Is it possible for you to talk to a counselor about how to figure out what you want to do about your brother? You need to talk this through out loud, and decide how best you will move on with your life. It is your life, not your boyfriend’s. Your boyfriend needs to give you space and time to decide how to handle the situation.

    I get the impression you’ve been giving this a great deal of thought, because it is a huge aspect of your life! So tell me, what is one thing you can do today to start moving towards healing and wholeness? This might be calling a counselor and talking about an initial consultation, or just journaling about your options.

    What would you like to see happen, and how can you move in that direction in one little way today?

  • Anonymous Girl

    My boyfriend has been really upset with me and I’ve been causing him so much stress. I told him that I was raped by my older brother when I was 13. For quite a awhile I hadn’t gone into much detail but my boyfriend pressured me into telling him more. It was really painful for a long time I had just ignored what happened in the past. So when I did eventually give him the full story he was so mad at me and still is because I hadn’t confronted my brother or gone to the poilce about it. I decided I would confront him and cut all connections with him and my boyfriend said that would be fine.

    However, even after I agreed to confront my brother, my boyfriend started asking why I hadn’t told my family or the police. I’ve cried so much and it’s not because what happened with my brother but the fact my boyfriend keeps talking about the rape. I feel so guilty because he’s all stressed out and I feel insecure that he’ll leave me. He wants there to be some type of punishment for my brother, but I just want it to stay in the past…all I want to do is move on with my life…

    What do I do? Am I in the wrong for not doing more about it?