Delayed Disclosure

If the sexual abuse has been occurring for a long time, the child may not be believed by adults when she discloses. She will be asked why she waited so long to tell. No child has the ability to articulate an answer to that question. If the child discloses during a family conflict or when in trouble for acting-out (using drugs or alcohol or running away), adults will usually interpret the disclosure as a way to get out of trouble.

When children disclose sexual abuse, adults may be shocked and confused. They may have difficulty believing the disclosure. However, children rarely lie about sexual abuse. Most children never tell, even into adulthood, that they have been abused. Children are more likely to deny, minimize, and forget the abuse. When children's accounts of the abuse are compared to an admitting offender's, the child's version has usually been understated and appears less serious than it actually was. The child often does not have the language to describe what happened to him or her. Adults may interpret inconsistencies as lies, but these are far more likely to be developmental deficiencies in communication, compounded by fear of consequences related to the disclosure.

Following the child's disclosure, events may occur that frighten the child, who may then change her mind about the disclosure. A retraction may occur, with the child denying the abuse occurred. This is predictable in light of the what may occur after the disclosure and the huge losses and subsequent complications the child may experience. The child may lose a loved family member, his family may be broken apart, she may be removed from her home, assessment and law enforcement and social services professionals will ask questions. A trial may occur. Physicians and therapists may examine the child.

If the child has been abused on multiple occasions, he or she may have forgotten much of the abuse (i.e., dissociative memory, traumatic memory loss). The child will need much support and encouragement to proceed in the process. The most important thing that you can do for a child who is disclosing sexual abuse is to listen and believe the child and protect the child from further acts of abuse. In order for a child to disclose sexual abuse and maintain consistency in her disclosure, she must receive support, acceptance, and protection. She must be believed! Otherwise, she will recant or change her story. 

It is very difficult to get a conviction in a sexual abuse case. If an investigation has begun, and the child has disclosed to law enforcement or social services and then recants, the case may be closed. The offender is then free to continue the abuse. The child was confused and angry before this process. After a failed investigation, the child may lose all hope.  


Social Media