Retraction is a typical response for a sexual abuse victim following disclosure. Having hesitated to disclose for so long, the child now finds out that all the things she feared is true. The perpetrator denies the abuse. The child's story is doubted.
Following her disclosure, she has had to tell her story to social workers, to the police, to special investigators, and interviewers. She may have seen doctors and counselors . Everyone now knows what happened to her. It is not surprising that she changes her story and tells all these people that it is not true, that it did not happen. She wants her life back. She may have developed survival skills to endure the abuse but feels unable to manage the anxiety and pain associated with the disclosure and investigation.
If the abuser is a father figure or other family member, she may have been removed from her home. Perhaps her siblings were also removed from the home. Her family has fallen apart, and she believes that it is her fault. She may be blamed for the family disruption by extended family members. Her siblings may be angry at her. Her family may have to move or her mother may have to go to work. Whatever the consequences, she feels that she has betrayed her family. Because she feels responsible, she may retract or recant her disclosure, hoping that it will make everything okay again.
The perpetrator may also be pressuring the victim to recant. Someone else in the family may also be pressing her to hold the secret and back away from the disclosure. It is easier for the child victim to go back to a pretend okay family. She then retracts her story and restores the family.
When a child retracts her disclosure, it is important that the mother, other family members, and investigators do not become convinced that abuse did not occur. Most victims do not disclose. In a 1991 study of 630 sexual abuse cases, 79% of victims denied abuse or were tentative in disclosure. Of victims who disclosed, 75% did so accidentally. And of those who did disclose, 22% eventually retracted the disclosure (Sorensen & Snow, 1991).
What is important at this point is that the mother is there, believing the child, encouraging her to tell the truth, to stick to her story, and to the child that she is not responsible for what happens to the family. The perpetrator is.
Child sexual abuse victims disclose abuse tentatively. They watch to see what happens next. If they are not believed and do not have support, they recant.
See MOSAC page to read about reasons that children recant: Reasons for Recanting.