When the Child Tells
Research demonstrates that children who have been sexually abused often either delay disclosure of the abuse to a parent or another adult or do not tell at all (Goodman-Brown et al., 2003; Leander et al., 2007). A recent Swedish study found that sexually abused children are markedly more likely to disclose the abuse to a friend their own age than to an adult (Priebe & Svedin, 2008). Sexually abused boys may be less likely than abused girls to disclose the abuse, for reasons similar to those expressed by adult males who have been sexually assaulted (shame, fear of negative responses from others, etc.) (Sorsoli et al., 2008). Many children do not disclose their abuse to an adult until they have reached adulthood, if then (Berliner & Conte, 1995; Goodman-Brown et al., 2003). "Fears of retribution and abandonment, and feelings of complicity, embarrassment, guilt, and shame all conspire to silence children and inhibit their disclosures of abuse" (Goodman-Brown et al., 2003, p. 526).
As described previously, children suffer many adverse effects of sexual abuse. Their fears about potential consequences of revealing their victimization and their resultant hesitancy to reveal it further magnify their misery. Furthermore, the emotional trauma that a child experiences as a result of a sexual encounter with an adult may be intensified by excessive parental reactions (Davies, 1995). When telling a parent what happened, children may merely be relaying a sense of discomfort over something they do not fully understand. If parents react with extreme agitation, children are likely to respond with increased emotional negativity, developing a sense of being implicated in something terrible and often feeling extremely guilty about having participated in such an event. Children may feel guilty about such experiences even without parental displays of distress, because they sense the guilt of the person who molested them.
It is important that parents respond appropriately to instances of child abuse involving their child. Such acts should not be ignored! While remaining calm in the face of their child’s revelation, parents should take great precautions to see that the child is not alone with the offender again. In many instances children are repeatedly molested by the same person, and they may come to feel a sense of obligation and guilt. It is essential to ensure that the child is protected from further experiences of this kind. Because it is also likely that the child will not have been the offender’s only victim, it is essential to report the offender to the police to protect other children.