Reasons that Children Recant Abuse Allegations
It is a well-known fact that disclosure is a process, not a one-time event. Disclosure of any kind of abuse is incredibly difficult for a child. Someone you have never met before starts asking you questions, detailed, embarrassing questions about what happened. Children are always fearful, confused, and ashamed.
In approximately 23% of child abuse cases, nearly a quarter of all children who report sexual abuse, will recant or retract, taking back the allegations of abuse. One study showed the number one reason that children recant allegations is that their primary, non-offending caregiver (usually the mother) did not believe them. Forty-six % of the children in that study recanted their prior disclosure when mothers merely suggested that they should, while no children of supportive mothers recanted their allegations. The study also showed that children are more likely to recant when they are younger and abused by a parent.
Sanford Health in North Dakota brilliantly summarizes child recantation reports that studies show that most children who recant are TELLING THE TRUTH when they originally disclose. Recantation is largely a result of familial adult influences, rather than a result of false allegations. When looking at reaffirmation rates, the researchers showed that 48.3% of the children who recanted their statements eventually reaffirmed at least some or part of those statements.
This is very important information for all parents, guardians, and others responsible for the care of children. If a child EVER discloses abuse to you, there are 3 responses that you MUST make:
1) Say, "I believe you." The facts will work themselves out in the end, but at the moment a child chooses to confide in you, you have a responsibility to trust that child and believe him/her. Not doing so can have long-term, damaging effects, including continued victimization of the child. Research also indicates that the percentage of false allegations made by children is extremely low, so odds are, your child is disclosing something that did indeed happen.
2) Assure the child, "It wasn't your fault." Sexual predators and abusers often will place blame for the abuse back on the child victim in an attempt to keep him/her quiet or 'accept' the abuse.
3) Immediately secure the child and report the abuse. It doesn't matter who the allegations are made against... your spouse, another child, a family member... you have an obligation to protect that child by protecting the child from the abuser and allowing professional investigators to determine what is happening to your child. Mandated reporters of abuse vary from state to state. However, all adults have a moral obligation to report that a child is being abused. This shows the child that he or she is important enough to protect!
There are right and wrong ways to respond if a child discloses abuse to you. Follow these 7 steps to help protect that child from further abuse and begin the healing process:
1) If you are unsure, but suspect a child is being abused, talk with that child in a comfortable setting. Do not directly ask if the child is being abused, but ask if the child is worried, bothered about something, or feels unsafe in some way. Keep your questions open-ended. Allow the child to offer that information to you, but do not berate or lead the child to do so. This becomes vitally important in the course of subsequent investigations that may be conducted by law enforcement.
2) If a child confirms he or she is being abused, do 2 things: Take a deep breath and remain calm and BELIEVE him /her! The truth will come out in the end, but this is an IMPORTANT POINT. Tremendous damage can be done to children when they disclose abuse to a trusted party and that person reacts with doubt, suspicion, or defiance. This often becomes difficult because most abusers are KNOWN to the child's family - less than 10% are strangers.
3) Collect some details from the child, but avoid having him share too many specifics with you - that should be explored later, ideally with a trained child forensic interviewer. Do, though, ask him to tell you Who, What, Where, and When. Who did it? What happened? (Again, in general detail, but DO NOT have him share with you too many specifics.) Where did it happen? When did it happen?
4) Make sure the accused perpetrator has NO access to the child! If the accused perpetrator is in the same location as the child (e.g., at home, school, etc.), immediately remove the child from the premises.
5) Immediately contact your local Child Protective Services Department or law enforcement. Hopefully, you live in an area with a Child Advocacy Center where the child can be interviewed about the alleged abuse in a safe, neutral, child-focused environment. You can also contact the National Child Abuse Hotline, and they will connect you with officials in your area.
6) Insist on a "wellness exam," in a Child Abuse Assessment Center or with a Sexual Assault Response Team medical professional. These are specially trained medical professionals and will conduct exams of victims of sexual or physical abuse in a non-threatening, child-friendly manner and environment. They are uniquely trained to conduct pediatric forensic examinations and determine the presence or absence of signs of abuse. I can't emphasize this enough - please don't take the child to his pediatrician unless that pediatrician is SART certified. Work through your local Child Advocacy Center or law enforcement to connect with a SART professional.
7) Ensure your child has professional follow-up with a victim's advocate or therapist. This is essential! Abuse can leave life-long scars and impact the child's emotional and psychological development. It's imperative to ensure she/he has access to the professional support and counseling needed for as long as she/he needs it.
Your action (or inaction) will reinforce with the child whether or not you think he or she is worthy of protection. Responding responsibly when a child discloses abuse is crucial. That child's life may literally be placed in your hands.
See MOSAC page titled Retraction.