Disclosures of Child Sexual Abuse

  1. Overview
  2. Sexual Violence
  3. Disclosures of Child Sexual Abuse

For a child, disclosing sexual abuse is especially difficult. A child may be embarrassed about what is happening to her/him, or simply lack the vocabulary to express it. While some children may tell you privately and directly about the abuse, more commonly the child will disclose the abuse in the following ways:

Indirect Hints

"Daddy wouldn't let me sleep last night."

"My babysitter keeps bothering me."

"Mr. Jones wears funny underwear."

Gently encourage the child to be more specific without suggesting more than she/he is willing to tell. When making a report, you don't need to know exactly what form the abuse took, merely that there is a strong likelihood that abuse did indeed take place.

Disguised Disclosure

"My friend's daddy likes to play doctor."

"My dolly doesn't like Uncle Jim anymore."

By removing her/himself from the act, the child can feel safer in disclosing the information. Encourage the child to tell you more. It is likely that the child will explain what she/he is talking about.

Disclosure If You Promise Not To Tell

"I have a secret but if I tell you, you have to promise not to tell anyone else."

Some children believe that something bad will happen if they break the secret of abuse. Often the offender uses threats to keep the child silent. The offender may tell the child that no one will believe him if he tells or the offender may physically threaten the child or his family. No matter how a child tells you about the abuse, it is important that she/he has placed trust in you. Don't negotiate and promise not to tell to get the child to disclose. You can promise that you will believe and support her/him. Let the child know you want to help and that you are glad she/he told you. Don't try to decide for yourself whether or not the allegation is true. Don't try to investigate. Child Protective Services and your local law enforcement are trained to do that. Let the child know you want to help.

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