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Quite regularly in the media, we hear about the adult disclosure of abuse that occurred decades ago during the childhood years. Why don’t children tell when they are being abused? Why do so many wait so long to share their pain?

A fact sheet created by the Memphis Child Advocacy Centre explores some of the reasons why kids don’t tell when they are being sexually abused. Children often don’t tell because:

• They have been taught to obey adults.
• They may be scared to tell. The molester may have threatened them.
• They may feel guilty about sexual abuse, believing it is somehow their fault.
• They may be confused because the molester is usually someone they know and usually trust.
• They may have been convinced by the molester that the abuse is okay or normal.
• They may have promised to keep the abuse a secret.

In cases of physical abuse, children might not tell because:

• They love the parent despite the abuse and fear the consequences of reporting.
• They view the abuse as normal discipline.
• They feel deserving of the abuse.
• They feel helpless and have little hope that the situation can be changed.
• They feel ashamed or isolated without the necessary support system to make changes.
• They lack assertiveness skills necessary to tell.
• They do not know what to do about it.

The website MOSAC, an online source of resources, information and support for mothers of children who have been sexually abused, notes that many factors influence whether a child will tell about sexual abuse, including:

  • the age of the child
  • identity of the perpetrator
  • level and type of threat
  • perception of the child regarding probability of being believed and protected from the perpetrator
  • severity of the abuse
  • presence of post traumatic stress disorder symptoms

The MOSAC website goes on to explain that disclosure is complex, multi-factoral and depends in part on a child's judgment about whether it is safe to tell. "If the perpetrator is a family member, the child usually takes longer to tell," explains the MOSAC website. "The disclosure may feel like betrayal, and the child experiences ambivalence, particularly if disclosure means the child loses a loved family member. Disclosure is a complex process and does not rest on one factor alone.”

The information presented above makes it pretty clear that, for kids, telling about abuse can be really tough – if not impossible at times. For this reason, we need to work really hard, in our churches and our homes, to create places in children’s lives where they will feel that it is safe to talk about the things that are worrying them.

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