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.

Right?

I Believe You

I was having my morning coffee while reading my local newspaper (Yes…I still subscribe to an actual printed newspaper) when a headline about a local police officer being charged with child molestation caught my eye. The man had been molesting this youth for six years. Six. Years. But the most heartbreaking sentence I read detailed how the boy had told his mother when the abuse first started and she didn’t believe him.

Before we go any further…NO JUDGEMENT here. This is NOT a shame and blame article. It is a ‘we could all learn something here’ article.

Mom dismissed her son’s disclosure because she thought it was a result of night terrors he was having. Fair enough. And, let’s remember how little child sexual abuse was talked about six years ago.  Six years ago, do you think anyone would have read past the first sentence of this article? I can answer that for you.  Nope.

This mom is not in an exclusive club. Remember Jerry Sandusky? One of his first victims told his guidance counselor. She didn’t believe the boy’s disclosure because of how upstanding and amazing and generous Coach Sandusky was. There are many more examples, but you get the idea. Lots of adults don’t believe children when they disclose abuse.

But, we should believe them.

It is estimated that only 4% – 8% of children’s disclosures of child sexual abuse are false claims. What we see far more of is children NOT disclosing their abuse (we’ll talk about this more in my next blog) …nearly 75% of child sexual abuse survivors never disclose or wait more than five years to disclose their abuse. And if a child does immediately disclose abuse, it is more likely to a friend rather than an adult.

So, we should believe them.

Aside from reporting the disclosure of abuse, believing the child is possibly the most important thing you can do.  It is not our job to determine if the allegation is true or not, or if the action was abuse or not. Our job is to believe the child, assure them they have done nothing wrong, and report the allegation of abuse to your state’s department of child services or local law enforcement.

If a child ever discloses abuse to you, your first words are NOT, “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” They are NOT, “Are you sure?”

Your first words are, “I believe you.”