In my last blog, I promised we would talk next about why kids don’t disclose sexual abuse.
Approximately 75% of children who are sexually abused don’t ever disclose their abuse or they disclose at least five years after the abuse occurred.
To begin to understand why so many children don’t disclose their abuse, you need to know one very uncomfortable truth: 90% of children who are sexually abused, are abused by someone they know, love or trust.
I’m sorry, but I’m about to make you even more uncomfortable, so please stay with me. That statistic means kids aren’t likely to be sexually abused by some creepy stranger; they are most likely to be sexually abused by a…
Family member. Like a parent. Or stepparent. Grandparent. Older sibling. Or an admired adult. Like a coach. Or youth group leader. Or Priest. Minister. Rabbi. Or a doctor. Or a teacher. Or family friend.
I think you see where we’re going here.
We can break down the reasons why children don’t disclose sexual abuse into two simple words:
Fear and Shame
As a child, some people are your whole world. They are the foundation of your very being. And you will do almost anything to protect them.
If it’s hard for us, as adults, to get our heads around the fact that the people most likely to sexually abuse a child are those the child knows, loves and trusts, think about how hard it is for a child to grasp that concept in a real way.
“If I tell, they will get in trouble…my parents will get divorced…they will lose their job…”
This inner dialogue is often followed by, “No one will believe me.” “This is my fault; I must have done something to make them do this to me.” “Everyone will think I wanted this since I kept going back.” “I can’t tell my parents…they will be so upset.”
Now consider that most perpetrators threaten their victims with shaming declarations that no one will believe them or threatening to hurt someone in their family, including a pet, if they tell. Or they outright tell the child how much trouble they could be in and ask the child to ‘keep this our secret.’
Like I said…Fear and Shame.
But sometimes, kids just don’t have the right words. Depending on their level of sexual education, a child may not know that what is happening is ‘abuse.’ To them it may be ‘icky’ or ‘creepy’ or ‘uncomfortable.’
Often times, after I have this conversation with someone they say, “Yea, I get it.” Followed by a thoughtful pause, and then, “But…” I get it. As an adult, it can be difficult to understand the psychology of a child who is enduring trauma. So, my answer to the lingering, “But…” is: Yes, it is helpful if we understand why a child doesn’t disclose abuse, but at the end of the day, we don’t need to understand. We just need to believe them.