Why children tell: a model of children's disclosure of sexual abuse

Child Abuse Negl. 2003 May;27(5):525-40. doi: 10.1016/s0145-2134(03)00037-1.


Objective: The present study investigated variables associated with delay of disclosure of child sexual abuse and tested a model of time to disclosure.

Method: Data were obtained for 218 alleged child sexual abuse victims whose cases had been referred to District Attorneys' Offices. Five variables were posited to influence the delay between an abusive event and children's disclosure of that event to a reporting adult: child's age, gender, type of abuse experienced (intrafamilial or extrafamilial), perceived responsibility for the abuse, and fear of negative consequences of disclosure. These variables were used to create a model of factors influencing children's disclosure of sexual abuse.

Results: Results indicated that age, type of abuse, fear of negative consequences, and perceived responsibility all contributed to predicting time to disclosure. There was significant support for the model, suggesting that children who were older, came from incestuous families, felt greater responsibility for the abuse, and feared negative consequences of disclosure took longer to disclose.

Conclusions: Children's cognitive appraisal of others' tolerance of disclosure of child sexual abuse, and their own perceptions of responsibility for the abuse, are crucial to the decision to disclose. When evaluating children for possible sexual abuse, developmental, cognitive, and socio-emotional factors need to be taken into consideration.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Child
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / psychology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Family
  • Fear
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Psychological
  • Self Disclosure*
  • Sex Factors
  • Sex Offenses / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Time Factors