Referring back to my community-based, web-survey, one of the questions I asked was; ‘If you attempted to tell someone of your experiences during childhood, how did they respond?’ In response to this question a significant number of participants chose to explain why they had not disclosed to anyone during their childhood.
Only 25% of the respondents who experienced CSA told anyone of this prior to the age of 14.
The person the respondents were most likely to tell was their mother, although this was slightly less likely when the perpetrator was the mother’s husband/partner/boyfriend.
Reasons given for not telling anyone included:
a) Concern for the effect that this would have on others (not wanting others to become unhappy)
b) Concern for what would happen to the perpetrator (sometimes excusing the perpetrator as they too had been abused)
c) A desire to maintain prosocial relationships with the perpetrator (e.g. the perpetrator also provided pleasant social interactions for otherwise isolated children)
d) Not knowing that the abuse was anything abnormal and thus warranting a disclosure
e) Self-blame and shame (and thus embarrassment)
f) Belief that the adults already knew of the abuse so there was no need to tell them
g) Sense of hopelessness which was fuelled by the sense that they wouldn’t be believed.
h) A lack of opportunity – not easy to suddenly and ‘out of the blue’ start a conversation about abuse.
Implications for the way in which parents might create the right environment for disclosures of abuse.
a) In their normal everyday interactions with their children, parents should avoid talking in ways that suggest that the children are responsible for the well-being of the adults. Instead, they need to remind their children that they (the parents) are responsible for the children’s well-being and are also strong enough to look after themselves.
b) If a child appears agitated or reluctant to to something or go somewhere, they need to ask them why they are reticent or upset, and do so in a private space and in an inviting tone so that the child is actually given the opportunity to speak. It is all too easy to tell the children that they must do something or that they are behaving irrationally (I have three children and I can relate to having done this). Many of my respondents have said that if only someone had asked them why they were upset or angry, they would have been all too happy to tell of the abuse. However, many of they found that they were never asked these types of questions in a way that invited an honest response.
c) Create opportunities for children to talk about taboo issues. This can be done by watching TV together and discussing issues that are presented in a non-judgemental and sympathetic manner. I have thought that the Witney case on Eastenders would provide a wonderful opportunity for parents to demonstrate their concern for Witney and their own desires to want to offer her emotional and practical support. Importantly to use language that does not hint at any blame or disgust towards the portrayed victim. Additionally, it is often wise in this case also not to talk too harshly about the perpetrator as children who are being abused are often in a complex relationship with the perpetrator and will often feel that they love them and care for them, whilst they dislike the abuse. By showing strong negative reactions to the TV villian, it might mean that the child becomes more reluctant to tell when something is happening to them.