Response to Disclosure of Child Sexual Abuse

Disclosure of sexual abuse is difficult for children. Abused children face many barriers to disclosure:

  • Children may lack the language skill to explain what is happening.
  • Lack of access to trusted adults. Children may not have a safe person to whom they can report.
  • Family taboos and disfunctions that inhibit a child’s ability to talk safely with another family member or seek outside help. 
  • Lack of physical evidence. 
  • Denial by an older and/or more powerful family member (including possibly the perpetrator). 

Most children do not disclose directly about their sexual abuse but may try to give hints about what is happening to them.

Often a child may disclose only pieces of their story, to gauge the reactions of others. If the person to whom a child discloses reacts negatively, the child may not continue with their story or disclose again.

Disclosure is the Beginning of the Healing Process.  

How to Respond to Disclosure

When a child discloses abuse, your initial reaction may be one of shock and anger. 

If you display that reaction, you risk frightening the child which could lead them to stop communication or retract what they were trying to disclose. To avoid this outcome, keep a calm, compassionate face. Put on your “poker face”. 

Initial Response: 

  • Stay calm.
  • Be non-judgmental.
  • Learn enough to report but do not interview the child. Interviewing the child can impact a later police investigation.

As an SRO or school employee, you do not need a direct disclosure to report abuse. You simply need suspicion of abuse.

What is appropriate to say in the moments after disclosure? 

  • “I am really glad you told me.” 
  • “It took a lot of courage to tell me.”
  • “Thank you for telling me.
  • “Tell me more about that.”
  • “It’s not your fault.”
  • “This happens to other kids.” 
  • “We will work together to get you help.” 
  • “You have the right to be safe.”
  • “Telling me was the right thing to do.”
  • “I will need to tell a few other people whose job it is to protect kids.”

When a child begins to disclose, it is often uncomfortable for the child and or you. 

A child may stop and start, hesitate, or stop talking all together. At such times, you may be inclined to ask the child questions to determine whether filing a report is necessary. 

However, asking questions often has the opposite effect and can further shut down the child. It is often more effective to simply make statements rather than ask questions. 

“This is difficult to talk about.”  

  • “Talking about what happened can be uncomfortable.”  
  • “Take as much time as you need.”
  • “When you are ready, tell me more.” 

As an SRO you are not the investigator, judge, or jury. You are there to support and report. 

Most children never report. 

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