Abuse Disclosure

The term disclosure refers to the secret of sexual abuse being told. Disclosure implies that all is told in some point in time, but that is seldom the case. Abuse disclosure occurs in levels. Most children do not tell. They may not know who to tell or have the language to tell. They are afraid and do not know whether they will be believed if they tell. Those that disclose may do so little by little, giving hints of something wrong. They also may be afraid of the consequences of telling about the abuse. Perpetrators lie to abuse victims to convince them of the severe, negative consequences of telling about the abuse. Holding the secret is a predictable stage of sexual abuse and also part of the accommodation that the child makes to ongoing abuse. 

Finding out about child sexual abuse is a process that occurs over time and has a pattern that is somewhat predictable. The finding out process may involve suspicion, not-knowing, and then knowing. How you respond to your child's disclosure affects her decision to continue disclosing, retract (recant) the disclosure, and ongoing consequences in the child's life resulting from the abuse. Disclosure is an incredibly important time in the victim's life and requires mothers to manage their own emotions effectively, believe and support their child, and take appropriate protective action.

Many factors affect the mother's belief at and following disclosure of her child's sexual abuse. These include the age of the child, type and severity of abuse, how she found out, relationship with the child, who the perpetrator is, and personality and behavioral factors in the child. Mothers initially react to the disclosure with shock, denial, anger , guilt, and depression. While feeling the effects of strong negative emotions, mothers must believe and support the child. Almost no children lie about being sexually abused.  

The disclosure of sexual abuse comes about in many ways. Your child may come directly to you and report abuse, or she may have told a friend or another adult. Perhaps you were concerned about signs of abuse and asked your child. However the disclosure occurs, mothers struggle with a wide array of emotions: pain, anger, fear, confusion, grief, and guilt. They wonder how they could not have known. They may want to deny that sexual abuse could possibly happen to their child. They may start to feel depressed.

Mothers often wonder why the child did not tell them about the abuse prior to this time. If abuse has occurred over a long period of time, mothers cannot understand how they did not know about it or see warning signs. Children have many reasons why they do not tell. Often they do not have someone to tell. Sometimes they do not know how to tell and lack necessary language and communication skills. They fear the consequences of telling. And they are confused. Offenders have given them many reasons not to tell, and they do not know what to do.

Offenders usually deny. If the perpetrator is the mother's partner, it is a struggle not to believe him. Ambivalence  results, and this impacts your support of your child. However, it is possible to hold the ambivalence inside you and provide the support to your child that she needs. You will need support and help in dealing with this ambivalence, though, so that you provide protection and safety for your child.   

The time immediately after disclosure is the most critical period for supporting your child and making decisions to protect him or her. The disclosure of sexual abuse has an immediate impact on siblings in the family. Friends and family members will respond, and some of these responses will not be supportive, kind, or helpful. It is important for mothers to know how to cope with the disclosureHealthy coping will enable mothers to survive the disclosure process, support their child, and recover. Unhealthy coping will worsen the crisis and potentially bring harmful results to child victim, mother, and other family members.

It has been known for many years that the single most critical element to the child is that the mother believe her. If the child believes she is not believed, she may stop talking about it, or may recant. The abuse may continue, and more serious long-term effects of the abuse will result.  



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