Finding Out

Disclosure of sexual abuse implies a point in time when the secret is disclosed. The secret is no longer hidden. However, finding out is actually a process, not a point in time. Mothers often do not know that their children are being sexually abused. Children are sometimes instructed to keep the secret or they are threatened with harm. Children may try hard not to let their mothers know. They feel guilty, ashamed, and frightened. They want the abuse to stop but may not believe that telling anyone will make a difference. They may have held the secret for so long that they feel guilty about the secret.

Children often do not tell because they care about the abuser and do not want to lose that person's affection or attention. Children are also very afraid that no one will believe them. Children have less power than adults, and they know this. They may have been told by an adult that no one will believe them. Children are sometimes told by offenders that their mothers already know about the abuse. Sometimes children provide verbal or behavioral clues to mothers, and they believe that these have been noticed and  deliberately ignored. If the offender is not close to the child, however, such as a family member, the child is less likely to hold the secret and more likely to tell about the abuse. 

Finding out about the sexual abuse of your child is a process that may occur over a period of time as you suspect or initially learn that your child has been abused. You may have thought something was wrong, but you were not sure. You may have confronted the offender and been told that nothing was going on. The offender may have gotten very angry or even threatened you for thinking they were sexually abusing your child. You may gain more information about the abuse as your child discloses more. If the child is defending herself against the reality of the abuse, that defense will prevent both you and her the awareness and knowledge of the truth.

It may be months or years before you learn the extent of the abuse - or as much as your child or the offender discloses. You may never know the full extent. If your child is older and was abused by a non-family member one or a few times, he or she may be able to provide times, places, events, and details. However, your child may be so young that he has no way to communicate the information effectively. 

Your ability to absorb information about the abuse is affected by your initial shock and your ongoing emotional state. You may not be able to truly hear and understand what you are told initially. Shock and denial are normal in the first stage of disclosure. It is important, however, to get past that as soon as possible so that you can provide support and protection to your child.

The finding out process depends on a number of variables:
  • How long the abuse had been going on.
  • The identity of the perpetrator.
  • The severity and force involved in the sexual abuse.
  • The perpetrator's statements to the child victim - including threats of what would happen if he or she tells.
  • Your relationship with the abused child.
  • Your child's belief that you will believe her. 



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