Disclosure occurs when the child reveals the secret of sexual abuse. She may tell a friend, a sibling, or a "safe" adult. However it happens, disclosure begins the next stage of sexual abuse. Painful and confusing events may occur after the child tells about the sexual abuse. This is why it is so important for mothers to provide support to the child following disclosure. It is critical that the child be believed and protected.  

Sexual abuse is disclosed at different levels. Most children do not tell about the abuse. Of those who do disclose, many factors influence the disclosure. These include  perpetrator threats, sibling or other family member pressure, and fear of consequences of telling the secret. Sometimes the disclosure is accidental, and the child did not intend to tell the secret. Sometimes it is a very gradual process in which the child tells just a little at a time, maybe a few words in an unrelated conversation.The child may also tell the secret as if it was someone else who was being sexually abused. 

The child fears that she will not be believed, and she will observe the response of the adult and judge whether to continue telling or change the story. If the mother overreacts, the child may shut down, and the disclosure will not occur. The mother must be careful and loving and wise in her responses. She needs to focus on listening and supporting  her child and managing her own emotions. The mother will need to access support later, but first must address the needs of the victim.

A predictable result of the disclosure is the denial of the offender who knows that serious consequences may occur if he admits. Offenders may deny vehemently, may undermine the child's story, and may accuse the child of other behaviors, making the account of sexual abuse less believable.

The abuse disclosure stage is very difficult for mothers. Initial reactions in mothers include shock, denial, anger, guilt, and depression. The mother is angry because her child was abused and is angry at the abuser. She is confused and hurt and worried and afraid. She knows the effects and possible long-term consequences of the abuse to her child and also knows the consequences of reporting. She must have the strength and courage to report the abuse and follow through with necessary legal actions. This is the time when mothers need the most support.   


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