Why don't children tell their parents about sexual abuse?

Why don't children tell their parents about sexual abuse?

Many children who are sexually abused don't tell anyone at the time and there are many potential reasons why. Understanding these reasons can help you support your child if you find out they’ve been abused.

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Why didn’t they tell me?

If your child didn’t tell you about the abuse or delayed in telling you, this is normal. We know children may not tell anyone or delay in telling anyone for a range of reasons:

  1. they felt ashamed or embarrassed. The most recent report from The Office of National Statistics shows that this is the most common reason for not reporting, accounting for 53-58%

  2. they weren't sure how to talk about it or couldn’t find a space to

  3. they haven’t recognised it as abuse. Children are often groomed prior to abuse and may think what is happening is normal.

  4. they were worried about how other people might respond or what was going to happen. They may have thought:

● ‘I won’t be believed’

● ‘Nothing will be done about it’

● ‘I might be seen as different.'

● ‘This is going to cause problems in my family/community/school.'

● ‘This might make the abuse worse for others’

● ‘I may be taken away from home.’

● ‘I don’t want the police or social services involved in my life.’

● ‘I don’t want the abuser to get in trouble’ (because of feelings of loyalty, love, fear).

● ‘I’m going to be blamed.'

● ‘Nude pictures of me will be found, which I’m embarrassed about.’

● ‘He/she is going to hurt or embarrass me or my family or someone else.'

The important thing is that you know and can support them. We know from research that a supportive response from parents and carers is one of the most important things that helps children make sense of, get support for and move on from abuse.

How you respond can help your child to share these worries and feel they aren’t alone in what happens next.

All child sexual abuse, past or current, should be reported to police. If a child is at immediate risk of harm, you should call 999.

Seven things you will need if your child tells you they have been sexually abused:

  1. A private and safe  space to talk – think about where this might be for your child
  2. Show your child that you believe them
  3. Be clear and supportive in what you say and let them know  that they are not blamed
  4. Give them time to find their words. Don’t rush to fill a silence, allow them time to find their way of telling you. Offer them pen and paper if they would prefer to write things down. If you ask questions, make them questions that open up conversation, not ones that can be answered only with ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
  5. Action to protect them – talk with your child about what actions you will take, letting them know that what has happened to them is not ok and not their fault. Child sexual abuse should always be reported to police.
  6. Support for your child. This should be child-led – you can help your child make a plan of support by talking with them to identify what strengths and support they already have in place, what they would like you to do to best support them, and discussing other avenues of support such as Childline, The Mix and counselling services.
  7. Support for you. Learning your child has been sexually abused can be traumatic, remember to consider what support you need at this time. NSPCC helpline can offer advice and support, or you may want to explore other support and counselling services in your area.