n Acta Criminologica: Southern African Journal of Criminology - How do sexually abused children disclose? Towards an evidence-based approach to practice

Volume 19, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1012-8093



Legal and popular understanding of the extent and nature of child sexual abuse disclosure tend to reflect outdated and unfounded assumptions regarding the way in which sexually abused children are likely to behave in the aftermath of abuse: first, an assumption that disclosure in child sexual abuse is normative; second, an assumption that CSA victims tend to disclose without undue delay; and third, an assumption that CSA disclosure tends to be purposeful. In an attempt to provide clarity on the issue, this paper reviews available literature on child sexual abuse disclosure in an attempt to provide answers to three fundamental questions: "Do child sexual abuse victims disclose their abuse?", "What is the latency of sexual abuse disclosure?", and "Do abused victims disclose purposefully?" The review of literature indicates that: (a) non-disclosure in child sexual abuse is the norm with only 8% of child sexual abuse cases being reported to the authorities, (b) the majority of child sexual abuse disclosures (58%) take place more than a year after the abuse, and (c) purposeful disclosure in child sexual abuse is the exception rather than the norm, with up to 75% of disclosures tending to be vague, ambiguous, and/or lacking in detail regarding specifics of the abuse incident. These findings not only provide an informed basis for those concerned to adopt an evidence-based approach to practice but also pose a clear challenge to those professionals who continue to base their decision-making regarding sexually abused children on outdated and unfounded assumptions regarding the nature and scope of the disclosure process.

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