Being Sensitive and Clear with Clients When Asking About Sexual Abuse

Mar 07, 2017

“Ideologies separate us. Dreams and anguish bring us together.”

Eugene Ionesco

Being Sensitive and Clear with Clients When Asking About Sexual Abuse

TISA Description of the Problem: Sexual abuse is a highly taboo area of inquiry. It is also an area where much miscommunication can occur between clinician and client. The term itself – sexual abuse – may fluster a client or confuse a client if asked directly as with, “Has anyone ever sexually abused you.” One way of approaching this dilemma is described in the following sensitive tip provided by Anton Schweighofer from Canada.

Tip: Rather than using the term “sexual abuse,” I often find the following phrase to be quite effective, “Has anyone ever touched you sexually who shouldn’t have been doing that?”

TISA Follow-up: I really like the above tip. It also raises another interesting point. Because some clients may have grown up in a household of abuse, the client may not even be aware of what actions constitute sexual abuse or who it is appropriate to be touched by. Consequently I find questions such as the following to be of use as well: 1) Has any one ever asked you to undress in front of them?, 2) Has anyone ever asked you to watch them undress?, 3) Has anyone ever asked you to shower with them? 4) Has anyone ever asked you to touch their private parts? All of these behaviors can be the early stages of abuse, and clients may not even view them as acts of abuse. Consequently they would not have shared this information unless directly asked about it.

Tip provided by:

Anton Schweighofer Ph.D., R. Psych.
Correctional Service of Canada