Why Children Don't Tell

Many factors influence whether a child will tell about sexual abuse. Primary factors include the age of the child, identity of the perpetrator, level and type of threat, perception of the child regarding probability of being believed and protected from the perpetrator, severity of the abuse, and presence of PTSD symptoms. The child judges whether it is safe to tell. If the perpetrator is a family member, the child usually takes longer to tell. The disclosure may feel like betrayal, and the child experiences ambivalence, particularly if disclosure means the child loses a loved family member. Disclosure is a complex process and does not rest on one factor alone, such as a perception that the mother may not believe the disclosure, although that is a primary factor. 

Other reasons children do not tell:
  • Dependency of children on adults for basic survival needs 
  • Ongoing needs of developing child  
  • Child's understanding that he or she is supposed to obey parents and other adults with authority
  • Desire to protect perpetrator, such as brother or father
  • Normalizing of the abuse as perpetrator tells victim that this is normal behavior
  • Threats and bribes of perpetrator
  • Fear of violence
  • Anxiety and fear about what will happen if they disclose 
  • Guilt and sense of responsibility for the abuse
  • Shame related to the abuse, particularly if her body responded to the stimulation
  • Inability to bring up the subject of sex due to family and/or adult inhibition or prohibition against talking about sex openly
  • The child making a partial disclosure and believing that the adult understood the content and did not act to protect
  • Belief that the mother or parents do not really care about him
  • Reluctance to give up the bribes and rewards that the perpetrator gives
  • Love and loyalty for the perpetrator and possible betrayal bond
  • Reluctance to give up the physical affection of the perpetrator
  • Fear of being blamed for the abuse
  • Fear of destroying the family

Social Media