child victim may experience guilt about keeping a secret and about the sexual behaviors involved in the abuse experience. She may feel that she is responsible. The perpetrator may have blamed her, and a young child believes what the abuser tells them. Abusers lie and manipulate the victim in order to keep the secret. Behaviors exhibited as warning signs of the abuse are generally problem behaviors. The victim may feel guilty about some of these behaviors as well. If she is angry and acts out, she may feel guilty about her anger.

If no one responds to the warning signs or limited disclosure the victim has provided, she may be angry at mother or other caregivers and then feel guilty about that anger. Depending on the age at which the sexual abuse began, family dynamics, and child's belief system, however, the sexually abused child may not experience feelings of guilt prior to disclosure. The child's level of guilt is related to his or her age and understanding. If begun early in life, sexual abuse will seem normal to a child, and the abuser may tell her that this (sexual abuse) happens in all families. 

During the post-disclosure process, children experience intense feelings of guilt related to their responsibility for the sexual abuse, consequences of the disclosure, and upsetting the family. Post-disclosure, children generally feel guilty about:
  • Not disclosing earlier
  • Not trying harder to get the abuse to stop
  • Being disloyal to the family
  • Consequences to the family unit and individual family members
  • Being responsible for the abuse
  • Consequences to the perpetrator
  • Having felt pleasure in the act of sexual abuse
  • Angry feelings towards the perpetrator and the non-protective parent
  • Acting-out behaviors and eruptions of anger before and following disclosure


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