Why children don’t disclose abuse…

Absued child - iStock_000019541609XSmall - imgorthand

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In the course of therapeutic work, I’ve had numerous children tell me about their abuse.

A recurring question at these times is, “Why didn’t we find out sooner?”

The personal frustration we feel can be softened by a greater understanding of the child’s experience. And to remember the terrible paralysis they feel when being abused.

How can a little child who doesn’t even understand what is happening, find the words to tell others? Knowing something about what keeps children quiet, may help us to help them to disclose sooner…

Why children don’t tell…

The following is taken from a study by the NSPCC. The study is called, “No one noticed, no one heard: a study of disclosures of childhood abuse.

60 young people aged 18-24 who were known to have been abused in childhood were part of the study.

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What stops children from disclosing abuse sooner?…

The following are quoted directly from the study cited above (p.25) . Each point is powerfully illustrated by a comment from one of the young people questioned:

  • No one to turn to – “I just had no one.” – Suffering abuse left victims feeling isolated and alone
  • Anxiety and fear – “I certainly, err, didn’t want to be found out.” – Feelings of shame, guilt or embarrassment stopped victims telling someone about abuse sooner
  • Developmental barriers – “It was just one of those things you couldn’t really explain.” – Young people didn’t know what was happening was abuse, or they didn’t have the words to describe it
  • Abuser’s tactics – “My Mum was so good at twisting stuff.” – Victims were manipulated and intimidated by their abuser
  • No one listened, no one asked – “I never went and asked for help, but no one ever asked me.” – The physical and emotional signs of abuse were there, but no one picked up on them
  • Confidentiality – “I guess my faith was shattered a bit.” – Previous experiences where young people’s confidentiality was breached shattered their confidence in others

Other key findings from the research…

  • On average it took more than 7 years for children who were sexually abused to successfully disclose it
  • The majority of the young people we spoke to in the research attempted to disclose the abuse before they were 18 years old ( 48 out of 60)
  • 86 per cent of those involved in the study who had suffered from sexual abuse disclosed during childhood – 66 per cent attempted to disclose when the abuse was happening
  • Many of those tried to disclose the abuse but were not ‘heard’ by professionals or those around them

I have written before on the subject of spotting the abused child and on spotting potential abusers. But this research suggests that professionals and carers often miss these signs. I hope that this post is a reminder of how important it is for all of us who work with troubled children, to stay alert for possible signs of abuse.

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What do you think?…

This post is just a summary of an extensive piece of research, and so is far from being definitive. You can read more detail on this by going direct to the research itself, here.

  • Please let me know what your thoughts are…   Leave a comment below or click here.

Related previous posts…

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© Jonny Matthew 2013 with material quoted from the NSPCC research project No-one Listened, No one Heard


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • SindonaX

    Intervention by others is the major help children need. I am horrified by how many MPs, Cllrs, etc. have just ignored information I gave them.

  • Sunnyclaribel

    I spoke out when I heard the monster was about to become a grandfather & I couldn’t live with the thought of him getting his hands on the new arrival. The CPS wouldn’t prosecute the evil low life, but I don’t regret reporting him. I think the best way to look at it is, ‘When a paedophile has finished with you, they go onto their next victim’, so as well as ‘hopefully’ receiving justice & closure, you are protecting future generations from the nightmares you’ve suffered. We’ll never stop these degenerates being born, but we can report every last one of them.

  • jonnymatthew

    Despite the recent high profile cases there is still, sadly, a degree of inertia around in high places. That said, the benefits to people who disclose are more in the disclosing than in the outcomes of justice processes, though this can be a massive help on those rare occasions where justice is done. Working sensitively with those who may want to disclose and being as supportive as possible when they do, are keys to changing the impact of abusers, one person at a time. Good to hear from people who really know about this stuff – thanks for commenting! J.

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  • 100Marathons4PTSD

    Thanks Jonny, it is better to have these things in the open and talked about as there are many opinions from the Public about why those of us who were abused as Children do not speak up or report it and I guess it can be very easy to be on the outside looking in, when you do not have to make that brave decision. I think as a Child, you do not really even understand what is going on and your abuser can threaten and have control over you and that leaves you dis empowered to speak up. It took me until I was 42 (Last year) to ask my Dad if he knew what was going on and I guess I was so busy dealing with my life that I did not even think about it until I got to a strong place myself. The more of us that do speak up and in a positive manner, maybe the Public will start to empathise a bit more, but they cannot know unless we speak up

    • jonnymatthew

      Wow, powerful story, Simon, thanks for sharing it. You’re right, we can only hear what children tell us. But the onus is still on us to make this extremely difficult process as easy as possible for them. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us! Cheers, Jonny.

      P.s. Loving the work you’re doing on this and your campaigning for PTSD in forces personnel via your own website! You guys can check it out here: http://www.simonbuckden.com

      • 100Marathons4PTSD

        You are very right Jonny, making it easier to talk about and showing empathy rather than shaming or blaming will hopefully mean that in the future, it can be seen and dealt with at an earlier age and that a person could live a much better Adult life.

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