Why children may not disclose abuse
April is both Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Awareness month. The following article is the first article of a four-week series focusing on raising awareness about sexual assault and One-in-five men will experience a form of sexual assault in their lifetime.
Roxanne’s House is Hays Caldwell Women’s Center Children’s Advocacy Center. It is a child-friendly facility with trained staff specializing in child abuse issues including licensed counselors, forensic interviewers, and advocates. The purpose of Roxanne’s House is to assist children in healing after abuse. Our forensic interviewers have the privilege to be trusted with listening to children tell their stories of being sexually abused, sometimes for the very first time. HCWC’s adult counselors often work with clients that seek our services for victimization they experienced when they were children but never received help for. This is often because the clients are just now able to talk about the abuse.
On the surface, it seems simple. If somebody hurts you, why not just tell right away? The reasons that kids may not disclose are many, and below are some of the more common factors.
One thing to keep in mind is that most children who are abused know and often like, love, and trust the person who has abused them even if they know that it is wrong. It is most often a family member, close family friend (including other minors), or another trusted person in their lives.
Emotional barriers are especially important, and abusers are often good at manipulating emotions. Children may feel guilt or shame about what has happened to them, thinking they did something to deserve it. An abuser might make the child feel that they are just as much at fault for what happened to them, and the child may get in trouble too if they tell. They may also convince your child that what is happening feels good and so it is not wrong. It is important to always let children know that it is never their fault if someone else touches them in an inappropriate way. Fear is another major barrier to children talking about sexual abuse. They may fear the offender hurting them or their loved ones, scared of others not believing them, or even scared of what will happen to their abuser if they tell. Even small children can understand the punishment their abuser may face and might not want their loved one to go to jail.
Family dynamics can also play a role in whether children outcry. Sometimes the breadwinner of the family is the abuser, and the child knows that if they talk about being molested, their family will suffer financially. This is a conclusion the child can reach on their own or there could even be external pressure from other family members who do not want the child to disclose for this reason.
One of the most overlooked reasons that a child has not talked about abuse is because they have never been asked. Please talk to your children about body safety, boundaries, and consent; it is NEVER too early or too late to have these conversations. Tell your child as soon as you can that no one is allowed to touch or look at their private parts (unless they need help with hygiene or are at the doctor AND you are present). Communicate that they will never be in trouble if they tell you about being touched and that you will always believe them and take it seriously. And most importantly, keep having these conversations. This is not an event but an ongoing dialogue to ensure the line of communication is consistent and can be trusted always.
Throughout the month of April, in addition to this article series, we will be sharing content across all our social media platforms as well as participating in community events. A fun way to get children involved is to participate in our month long Chalk the Walk Art Contest. Share photos of your chalk creations to Zoe@hcwc.org no later than April 20, 2022. The winning submission will take home an art kit, gift certificate to a local restaurant and an HCWC goodie bag!
We encourage our allies to participate and share our message with their friends and relatives to LISTEN without judgment, BELIEVE without prejudice, and SUPPORT our neighbors that have suffered abuse. Be sure to follow us on social media for updates on upcoming events.