Understanding Disclosure and Tips on How to Respond

Why is it difficult for some children to tell?

There are many reasons children do not disclose abuse.

  • Children are taught to obey adults.
  • Developmental differences – the child may not know the words that describe the abuse, have difficulty understanding the event, be mixed up about the time and location, and may confuse reality and fantasy.
  • Confusion about appropriate touches.
  • Fear of parent’s anger or blame.
  • Fear of the consequences or that they will not be believed.
  • Fear of loss of privileges.
  • Guilt for feeling pleasure.
  • Fear of threats made by the perpetrator.

Responding to a child’s disclosure

Filter your natural reactions of expressions of anger, shock, and horror

Disclosing abuse is one of the hardest things for anyone to do, especially children. Kids cannot always sort the differences between your anger about what they have experienced and anger towards them. In the presence of the child, we suggest remaining calm and to focus on listening. Later, when you are away from the child, you can express your feelings with adult friends, family, or hotline counselors. Anyone who is a part of your support system.

Do not condemn the abuser

When child sexual abuse happens, children usually know the abuser: it’s often a close relationship, and sometimes it includes love. Our view is that it is better to condemn the behavior of the abuser rather than person, so that the child is not questioning why they liked (or loved) the person. Abusers are manipulative. Many abused children experience blame for what occurred, especially if it the abuser was someone they trusted.

Don’t make promises that you are not sure you can keep and state expectations realistically

For instance, don’t say to the child, “we are going to find them and lock them up forever” unless the trial is over and the abuser has been convicted with a life sentence. Unfortunately, there continues to be a low conviction and sentencing rate for sexual assault/rape. Predicting any kind of legal outcome is not a good idea; otherwise, the child may feel at fault if the abuser is not prosecuted.