The aim was to understand the factors influencing informal disclosure of child sexual abuse experiences, taking account of dynamics operating prior to, during, and following disclosure. In-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with 22 young people who experienced child sexual abuse and 14 parents. Grounded theory methodology informed the study. The key factors identified as influencing the disclosure process included being believed, being asked, shame/self-blame, concern for self and others, and peer influence. Many young people both wanted to tell and did not want to tell. Fear of not being believed; being asked questions about their well-being; feeling ashamed of what happened and blaming themselves for the abuse, for not telling, and for the consequences of disclosure; concern for how both disclosure and nondisclosure would impact on themselves and others; and being supported by and yet pressurized by peers to tell an adult, all illustrate the complex intrapersonal and interpersonal dynamics reflecting the conflict inherent in the disclosure process. These findings build on previous studies that emphasize the dialogic and interpersonal dynamics in the disclosure process. Both intrapersonal and interpersonal influencing factors need to be taken account of in designing interventions aimed at helping children tell. The importance of asking young people about their psychological well-being and the role of peer relationships are highlighted as key to how we can help young people tell.
Keywords: adolescent victims; child abuse; family issues and mediators; prevention of child abuse; sexual abuse.