Children's disclosures of sexual abuse: learning from direct inquiry.Child Abuse Negl. 2011 May; 35(5):343-52.CA
Published protocols for forensic interviewing for child sexual abuse do not include specific questions about what prompted children to tell about sexual abuse or what made them wait to tell. We, therefore, aimed to: (1) add direct inquiry about the process of a child's disclosure to a forensic interview protocol; (2) determine if children will, in fact, discuss the process that led them to tell about sexual abuse; and (3) describe the factors that children identify as either having led them to tell about sexual abuse or caused them to delay a disclosure.
Forensic interviewers were asked to incorporate questions about telling into an existing forensic interview protocol. Over a 1-year period, 191 consecutive forensic interviews of child sexual abuse victims aged 3-18 years old in which children spoke about the reasons they told about abuse or waited to tell about abuse were reviewed. Interview content related to the children's reasons for telling or for waiting to tell about abuse was extracted and analyzed using a qualitative methodology in order to capture themes directly from the children's words.
Forensic interviewers asked children about how they came to tell about sexual abuse and if children waited to tell about abuse, and the children gave specific answers to these questions. The reasons children identified for why they chose to tell were classified into three domains: (1) disclosure as a result of internal stimuli (e.g., the child had nightmares), (2) disclosure facilitated by outside influences (e.g., the child was questioned), and (3) disclosure due to direct evidence of abuse (e.g., the child's abuse was witnessed). The barriers to disclosure identified by the children were categorized into five groups: (1) threats made by the perpetrator (e.g., the child was told (s)he would get in trouble if (s)he told), (2) fears (e.g., the child was afraid something bad would happen if (s)he told), (3) lack of opportunity (e.g., the child felt the opportunity to disclose never presented), (4) lack of understanding (e.g., the child failed to recognize abusive behavior as unacceptable), and (5) relationship with the perpetrator (e.g., the child thought the perpetrator was a friend).
Specific reasons that individual children identify for why they told and why they waited to tell about sexual abuse can be obtained by direct inquiry during forensic interviews for suspected child sexual abuse.
When asked, children identified the first person they told and offered varied and specific reasons for why they told and why they waited to tell about sexual abuse. Understanding why children disclose their abuse and why they wait to disclose will assist both professionals and families. Investigators and those who care for sexually abused children will gain insight into the specific barrier that the sexually abused child overcame to disclose. Prosecutors will be able to use this information to explain to juries why the child may have delayed his or her disclosure. Parents who struggle to understand why their child disclosed to someone else or waited to disclose will have a better understanding of their child's decisions.