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Frequently Asked Questions about telling someone

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Q. Is it worth telling someone what's going on, or is it better to keep it to myself?
Q. How can a professional or a help-line help me?
Q. What do I say if I tell a teacher or a counselling service?
Q. What will happen if I tell a teacher or a counselling service - will they keep what I tell them private?
Q. What if I tell the government Child Protection services about the abuse, or what if someone else tells them?
Q. What might happen if I ring the police? How can the law help?

Q. Is it worth telling someone what's going on, or is it better to keep it to myself?

 'Having been abused myself, I'd say if it's happening in your family, find someone you can tell. It takes a while to find the right person, but keep trying 'cos you feel a lot better if you don't have to deal with it on your own.'  

Talking to someone who cares about you can really help. It's ok to feel nervous about telling someone about the abuse.
For example, you might feel: But there are good things about telling someone, like:
  • embarrassed
  • guilty that you're telling a family secret
  • scared of not being believed or of being blamed
  • afraid of getting someone in your family in trouble
  • worried about making the situation worse.
  • relief at finally getting the problem out
  • feeling less alone
  • getting someone else's advice and ideas
  • getting safer
  • the person might help you to make the abuse stop.

Telling Friends . . .
A good friend that you trust can give you support, and maybe help to work out what you can do. But if you think that you need help to protect yourself, you should probably also think about telling an adult or a professional. If you want support, maybe your friend could go with you to tell a counsellor or a teacher, or could contact a hotline to get information for you.
Sometimes friends don't know how to react - if a person you tell doesn't help, don't let that stop you from telling someone else!

Telling Trusted Adults . . .
Adults are often more confident about getting help for you so that the abuse stops. Perhaps they could provide a safe place for you to stay, or they could contact a helping service for you, or they could talk to other family members about what's happening. There's lots of ways you could bring the subject up with them. For example, you could say 'there's something happening at home that's stressing me out - can I talk to you about it?' You have a right to know what an adult will do if you tell them about the abuse, so you might want to ask what will happen to the information that you give.

Adults you could tell might be your mum or dad (if they're not the one doing the abusing), friends' parents, family friends, aunts or uncles, grandparents, older brothers and sisters, or any other adult you trust. If the first adult you tell doesn't help, try another, or talk to a counsellor, help-line, teacher or doctor (See below)

Q. How can a counsellor, a teacher or a help-line help me?

A professional (like a counsellor, a teacher, a school student welfare co-ordinator, or a doctor) is there to listen to you, and help you work out what's going on and how you can get safe. They shouldn't judge you. You could talk to a professional over the phone (like a help-line service) and they can organise for you to see someone in person if you want. Or you could talk to a counsellor through email if you want to (Kids Help Line does this, see A doctor can also help if you've been injured.

 'I didn't think there was any point in counselling. But I gave it a go because I got talked into it. It doesn't make everything better straight away, but it does help you to work out your problems, and the counsellor won't judge you.'  

Q. What do I say if I tell a teacher or contact a counselling service?

It can be hard to know how to tell someone else about abuse. If you want to tell a teacher or another adult, one way to bring it up might be to say Can I talk to you about something that happened to me / something that's happening at home? Or perhaps you can write it down first to practice what you would say. If writing is easier for you then perhaps you could even give what you wrote to the teacher or another adult.

Many people feel a bit nervous ringing a helpline. The counsellor who answers the phone will understand if you don't know where to start or what to say. One idea is to start asking about their service first before you talk about yourself (eg. I just want to find out what your service does); another idea is to just say I want to talk to someone about what's happening at home and the counsellor will take it from there. If you feel more comfortable communicating in writing, you can email a helpline (see Services).
Or maybe you can tell a friend about it and ask if they can ring a service for you, or go with you to tell a teacher.

Remember that you have a right to get support and help, and that abuse isn't your fault. For more information on how services will respond see services.

Q. What will happen if I tell a teacher or a counselling service - will they keep what I tell them private?

It can feel like you lose some control over things once adults know what is happening. However scary or difficult it might seem, getting help will probably be better than feeling alone or afraid.

If you tell a counselling service or a teacher about abuse, they will want to make sure you are safe - so they might have to do something to stop the abuse from happening again. Professionals (i.e. counsellors, teachers, doctors, nurses, help-lines etc.) have to keep what you tell them 'confidential' (i.e. they will keep it private), except if they believe that there is a serious risk to your own or someone else's safety. Under the law, if these people think that a child or young person is in danger and needs protection from getting hurt, they might have to tell someone who can take action to protect you - this could be a parent (NOT the one who is doing the abusing), Child Protection services (a government welfare department see below) and/or the police.

If you're worried about whether a professional will keep what you tell them private, you could try
  • asking them questions first, like 'what does your service do?' or 'will you keep any info I tell you private? If not, what will you do with any info I tell you?'
  • asking questions over the phone can be easier - you don't have to give your name. Or you could email Kids Help Line to talk to them on email (
  • If you tell a professional about the abuse but you don't want your situation to be reported to Child Protection, tell them why and talk through your fears. They may still say that they have to report it, but at least they'll know how you feel about it! They should listen to you, tell you what is going to happen, and talk to you about your rights. The main reason a professional would have to tell Child Protection would be because they're worried about your safety - it's not to 'dob you in'!
  • Remember - you are not to blame for the abuse and you have a right to feel safe. Counselling services and teachers are there to help you.
  • Check out the list of helpful services

Q. What if I tell the government Child Protection services about the abuse, or what if someone else tells them?

Every State government has a section called Child Protection. This department is there to protect children and teenagers from harm. It gives advice about, and in some cases gets involved to protect people under 17 years old who are not safe at home. Being exposed to abuse or domestic violence between your parents can also be considered an unsafe situation.

Anyone can ring Child Protection and talk to one of their workers. You can contact them yourself if you're worried about things that are happening in your family. (If you ring them to get information, you don't have to give your name if you don't want to)! They're there to protect you from living with abuse and to help you get safer. If you don't want to speak to them directly, call a service like Kids Help line and they could help you to talk to a child protection worker.

If a child protection worker is contacted by you, or by someone else, it's possible that they'll investigate what's happening to see if you're safe in your family, and to see if there's anything that should be done to protect you from abuse. They look at whether or not your parents can protect you from violence and abuse. In the first instance, they'll try to help your family to stay together and be safe from abuse. If this doesn't happen, Child Protection has to take further steps to protect you. If they believe that your home is not a safe place for you, they may do something to remove the abusive person, or remove you from the abusive person. This could mean getting the police to charge the abusive person with a criminal offence, removing the abusive person from your home, or getting you to stay somewhere else (like with other family members or friends, or with another family).

Q. What might happen if I ring the police? How can the law help?

If you are in danger or if you think someone else is about to get hurt, call the police for help on 000. They can come to you any time, day or night. Police have the authority to stop the abuse. They might talk to the person who is abusive. They could warn them, or ask them to leave the house. If there's enough evidence, they could arrest the person and charge them with a crime. The person probably would then be released on bail, with conditions that they don't contact family members.

There are also court orders that can protect family members who are being abused. For example, if one parent is being abused by their partner, the police may suggest that the parent should apply to a court for a protection order (they're called different things in different states - in Victoria they're called 'Intervention Orders', in NSW they're 'Apprehended Violence Orders', in Queensland they're 'Domestic Violence Orders', in WA and NT they are 'Restraining Orders', in ACT they are 'Protection Orders', in SA they are 'Domestic Violence Restraining orders', in Tasmania they are 'Restraint orders'). Or the police may apply for a protection order on behalf of the person who is being abused. The order can say, for example, that the abusive person must not be abusive again, and/or that they must not come near family members. If the abusive person disobeys the order, they're said to be in 'breach' of the order and they can be charged with a crime.

In some cases, young people who are being abused can apply for their own protection orders from a court (or otherwise an adult or police can apply for one for you). The order might say that the person has to stop abusing you, or is not allowed to come near you. Talk to one of the services listed for info on this.

You can contact the police to report abuse that has been happening to you any time, even if it happened some time ago. Abuse and violence (including sexual abuse) is against the law. It might be a good idea to take a trusted adult with you when you talk to the police, because they can help you when you make a report. The police may investigate what happened, and if it's a criminal offence, and they could charge the person who abused you.

If the police are worried about your safety or believe that members of your family can't protect you from the abuse, they'll also report your situation to Child Protection (see above).

Want more info about the law or police?

  • To ask someone for advice, see 'What services can help me?' or you could see the Lawstuff website to email a legal expert for confidential advice on what the law can do to help protect you. (it takes about 10 days to get an answer back)
  • Read the True Stories to find out more about what other young people did.
  • Also see legal quiz.
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