One of the most frequent questions we get from the community is why kids don’t tell anyone about abuse, keep it a secret for so long, or never tell at all. A few facts will help us:
- Researchers tell us that only about 30% of abused children tell an adult or ask for help.
- Girls tell more often than boys. In fact, most boys never breathe a word of abuse, especially if it’s sexual, for their entire lives. And those who do often delay their disclosures, often for decades.
- Many children who do get the courage up to tell an adult are not believed. If this happens, it is just another betrayal, and odds are they will keep their pain and secrets to themselves and suffer in silence.
Children have their own logic and value systems and unless we understand that, we will never understand why they keep heinous experiences to themselves. Here are just a few really valid reasons why a child would not tell anyone of abuse:
- They feel shame. Most offenders tell the child it is her fault or that she caused him to act in this way. Since we have told children that adults are right, why should a child doubt that?
- Children blame themselves for the abuse. They take the blame onto themselves and turn it inward and here begins a life of low self-esteem, depression, lack of self-worth, self-harming behaviors and the whole gamut of destructive paths.
- The offender makes the child feel special, gives him gifts, and takes him on special outings and gives the child attention that he may not be getting at home. An offender in the home may single out one child for this grooming process.
- The offender threatens the child. “If you tell, I will kill your family.” “If you tell, they are going to take your mom away.” “If you tell, I will hurt your dog.” If you tell, YOU are going to get into a lot of trouble for what you’ve been doing.” “No one will believe you over me.”
- The child is too young to know that what is being done to her is wrong. She is told that it’s what adults do, how they play. The child doesn’t question the adult.
- The child has no knowledge at all about sex and sees the abuse as normal.
This is just a sampling of the reasons so many children don’t tell. That doesn’t mean they don’t suffer. It is no wonder they have nightmares, can’t concentrate in school, act out with aggression or move inward to depression and try to harm themselves.
We as adults need to provide a safe place for children to tell. As parents we need to talk to our kids about what they should do if anyone touches them inappropriately. Also, our actions when a child discloses can either validate the child or contribute to the lifelong ill effects of the abuse. The most important thing you can do is tell the child you believe them, that it is not their fault, and that they did the right thing telling you. As adults we can prevent, recognize and react responsibly to child sexual abuse.