When a child is sexually abused, they normally don’t tell anyone. When they become adults, they either never tell anyone or wait for years/decades before disclosing their abuse. The primary reason for this is the negative responses from others which are unconscionable. This is what I call the “Brick Wall of Denial.”
The abuser is usually a family member and has brainwashed/conditioned the child to always protect the perpetrator – creating the first brick wall. And, when survivors try to open up to people later in life, they are met with excuses such as “get over it” or “that happened a long time ago” – a way of reinforcing the perpetrator’s message that it was really no big deal – creating another brick wall of denial.
- Fear of negative reactions,
- Wanting to protect others,
- Fear of negative consequences (e.g., losing one’s family), and
- Threats from the abuser.
The types of negative reactions received usually are:2
- Ignoring the disclosure,
- Accusing the survivor of lying,
- Punishing or beating the survivor,
- Parental rejection,
- Neglect, indifference, and/or anger, and
- Avoiding talking or listening.
What is most helpful to survivors who disclose are:3
- Belief/validation (being an empathic listener/saying one is also a survivor),
- Not being blamed,
- Socio-emotional support (e.g., being told it’s not one’s fault, holding the survivor (if s/he wants to be held), protectiveness, facilitating talking about the effects of his/her abuse, listening, asking helpful questions, having an accepting attitude about the abuse, and the survivor’s reactions), and
- Instrumental support (e.g., confronting the offender or making sure the abuse does not reoccur).
Survivors of child abuse need all the support they can get. Acknowledging and accepting their disclosure is very helpful and supportive.
1 “Social Reactions to Child Sexual Abuse Disclosures: A Critical Review,” Sarah E. Ullman, Ph.D., Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, Vol. 12 (1) 2003.