Disclosing unwnated sexual experiences: results from a national sample of adolescent women

Child Abuse Negl. 2004 Feb;28(2):147-65. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2003.09.014.


Objective: The aims of this study are to identify factors that influence the disclosures made by female survivors of unwanted sexual experiences (USE) in childhood and adolescence. The predictors of both the timing of disclosure (short delay, long delay, non-disclosure) and the recipient of the disclosure (disclosing ever to an adult, disclosing to peers only, non-disclosure) were investigated. Participant characteristics, USE characteristics, and family contextual variables were explored.

Method: A sub-sample of 263 adolescent females who reported unwanted sexual experiences in the National Survey of Adolescents (NSA) provided data on the characteristics of their experience as well as the timing and recipients of disclosure. Two multinomial logistic regression analyses were conducted to determine significant predictors of each aspect of disclosure.

Results: Age of onset, a known perpetrator, a familial relationship with the perpetrator, and a history of drug abuse in the household are related to the timing of disclosure. Age of onset, penetration, fear for one's life during the USE, injury during the USE, family structure, and the age differential between the survivor and the perpetrator are linked to the recipient of the disclosure.

Conclusion: Age is a critical variable in the disclosure process. Whereas aspects of the abuse experience were more important in predicting whom a victim would tell, the relationship to the perpetrator was more important in deciding to delay disclosure. As survivors grow into adolescence, the importance of peers provides a source of support that becomes increasingly important in decisions to disclose.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age Distribution
  • Child
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / psychology*
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / statistics & numerical data
  • Child, Preschool
  • Disclosure
  • Family*
  • Fear / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Prevalence
  • United States / epidemiology