Choosing to disclose, or share, a history of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) is a completely individual decision. While some forms of treatment or healing may involve disclosing the trauma to move forward, this may not be the most beneficial option depending on each survivor’s personality or history. Some individuals may want to share what has happened to them, while others may never choose to tell anyone for the rest of their life. Sometimes, the decision not to disclose a history of abuse may be due to a previous attempt to disclose that did not go as planned. For example, some survivors may have tried to tell someone when they were a child or when they were experiencing the abuse and may have been ignored or not believed. This may cause feelings of fear or a lack of desire to try to open up again.
Many survivors will never disclose the abuse
It has been estimated that nearly 20% of all survivors of childhood sexual abuse will never disclose the abuse, and roughly 60% will not disclose the abuse until at least five years after the first incident.1 Whatever the reason may be for not disclosing an abuse, each individual’s story is their own to tell. However, much they want to share is completely up to them, as well as when, or if, they disclose this information to their friends, family, or partners.
Although this decision and situation can be handled a variety of ways, there are a few things to consider that may help an individual make the decision to disclose a history of abuse, and ideas to make the process as positive and healthy as it can be. These include, but are not limited to:
- Determining your level of trust with the person you are looking to talk to and considering how supportive they are of you.
- Determining what you hope to gain from disclosing your history. Are you looking for support? Are you looking for relief? Consider if the person you’re disclosing to can help you achieve these goals.
- Consider disclosing only when you are in a safe environment without many distractions, and when everyone involved is in a sound state of mind (for example, only when everyone involved is sober).
- Considering if the other person has had a history of abuse or trauma, and how it may affect the way they receive your story.
- Give your partner, friend, or family member space to process what you are telling them. Although the story you tell is yours to share, and you are in control of the conversation, your loved one may need time to process and best choose their words or actions to support you.
- Tell the individual you’re disclosing to what you need from them. If you want them to help you seek treatment, tell them that. If you’re just looking for someone to listen and not ask questions, tell them that as well.
- If there is someone else who knows about your history that you trust and who supports you, consider telling them that you’re planning to disclose to someone else. This way, if anything goes unexpectedly, you have a source of support ready if you need. Even if there’s no one else who knows what you’ve been through, just letting a trusted individual know that there’s something important going on in your life and that you may need a no-questions-asked friend in the near future may be helpful.2
- Tener D and Murphy SB. Adult disclosure of child sexual abuse: A literature review. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse. 4 June 2014; 16(4), 391-400.
- Should I Tell My Partner? 1in6.org. https://1in6.org/get-information/common-questions/should-i-tell-my-partner/ Accessed December 27, 2017.