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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

[shareable cite=”Jonny Matthew”]All child care professionals need to know the signs of abuse – this research helps![/shareable]

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