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The process of disclosure

Disclosure can be a scary and difficult process for children. Some children who have been sexually abused may take weeks, months, or even years to fully reveal what was done to them. Many children never tell anyone about the abuse. In general:

  • Girls are more likely to disclose than boys
  • School-aged children tend to tell a caregiver
  • Adolescents are more likely to tell friends
  • Very young children tend to accidentally reveal abuse, because they don’t have as much understanding of what occurred or the words to explain it¹

Disclosure is often times a difficult process for children. It is rarely a one-time event in which an interviewer sits down with a child and the child tells everything. Children often tell their stories over a period of time and some never fully tell. Delayed disclosures are more common then not. Many children will never tell. Reasons many children don’t disclose include:

  • Fear the abuser may hurt them or their families
  • Fear of not being believed, or will be blamed and get into trouble
  • Worry that their parents will be upset or angry
  • Shame or guilt
  • Fear that disclosing will disrupt the family, especially if the perpetrator is a family member or friend
  • Fear that if they tell they will be taken away and separated from their family

Additionally to most children “telling” means something very different then it does to adults. Children will say “Uncle Joe hurt me” and will assume adults know what they are talking about and will react to keep them safe. They don’t understand or comprehend why adults would need more information.

What do I do if a child discloses?

  • Listen. Do not fill in words for the child and do not ask probing questions
  • If the child is having a difficult time talking, don’t help the child with words that you THINK the child is going to say. Allow the child to tell you in their own words.
  • Tell the child that you are glad that they told you and that you believe them.
  • Tell the child that it ‘Was not your fault” and reassure the child that they are not in trouble.
  • If the child asks you not to tell anyone, remind the child that it is your job to help keep them safe and you will do whatever you may need to do to keep them safe.
  • Do not be overly critical of the offender. Children are protective of people they care about, even if they are being abused
  • Don’t express panic or shock
  • Be aware of your own feelings about abuse so you will not project these onto the child.
  • Contact your local law enforcement and/or social services to report the abuse.
    Click here for more information on reporting »

¹North Dakota Department of Human Services. ND.gov, 2010. Online. Internet. North Dakota State Government. January 2010, http://www.nd.gov/dhs.

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