It has been estimated that 60% of sexually abused children do not tell others about the abuse. There a number of reasons why abuse survivors choose to not share their experiences with others including the following. 1-3
An individual who has been (or is currently being) abused may feel a sense of shame, embarrassment, anxiety, or other overwhelming emotions about the event. The ability to process these emotions and disclose their experiences may be very difficult for many survivors.
Children are often manipulated to feel guilty or responsible for the abuse. Many survivors report feeling that they should have tried to stop the abuse while others may feel guilty if they enjoyed the experience. No matter what the situation, it is important to remember that CSA is a power dynamic through which the abuser exerts their power over the child.
A child may not disclose abuse in fear of not being believed or in fear that their abuse will not be taken seriously by those who can help. In cases where the abuser has a close relation to the child, like a direct family member, the child may be scared to come forward in fear of getting someone they care about in trouble.
Abusers use many tactics to prevent the child from not telling anyone about the abuse. The use of threatening messages such as telling the child that if they disclose to anyone about the abuse, that other family members will be harmed, or that the abuse behavior will continue are common. They may also try to emotionally manipulate and confuse the child into believing that the abuse is not wrong or that the child likes the abuse so it should keep going. Abuser may also try to convince a child that the abuse they are experiencing is something special or a reward.
Sometimes, an individual who has experienced childhood sexual abuse may choose to keep their experience a secret rather than divulge personal details of their life to others.
There are many other reasons why an individual may not discuss a personal history of CSA. The key point to remember is that regardless of whether or not someone does not choose to disclose what has happened to them, the experience is not now nor has it ever been their fault. While it is completely up to an abuse survivor to decide if or how much they want to discuss, it is important to note that in disclosing these events to the appropriate individuals, such as the authorities, counselors, or therapists may help with the healing process.
- Alaggia, R. (2010). An ecological analysis of child sexual abuse disclosure: Considerations for child and adolescent mental health. Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 19(1), 32.
- Collin-Vézina, D., De La Sablonnière-Griffin, M., Palmer, A. M., & Milne, L. (2015). A preliminary mapping of individual, relational, and social factors that impede disclosure of childhood sexual abuse. Child Abuse & Neglect, 43, 123-134.
- McElvaney, R., Greene, S., & Hogan, D. (2014). To tell or not to tell? Factors influencing young people’s informal disclosures of child sexual abuse. Journal of interpersonal violence, 29(5), 928-947.
- Elliott DM, Briere J. Forensic sexual abuse evaluations of older children: disclosures and symptomology. Behavioral Sciences and the Law 1994;12:261–77.