Why "Delayed Disclosure" Is Common Among Child Sexual Abuse Survivors

A 61-year-old man was found guilty of raping and sexually abusing a child over several years between the 1980s and 1990s. He was sentenced to 12 years for rape and three years for cruelty to a child (to run consecutively). He was also sentenced to two years for indecent assault and one year for gross indecency with a child, both to run simultaneously.

According to police, the man sexually assaulted the victim on many occasions and eventually started raping her. He physically her, leaving her injured. The young girl would feel forced to lie to teachers about how she was hurt. The perpetrator used "physical and sexual violence to control his victim" and instill "significant fear".

According to police, the victim, now an adult, came forward to report the perpetrator, decades after several years of abuse. Jimmy Nsubuga "Man jailed for 15 years for raping and abusing a child in series of 'sick' crimes" https://news.yahoo.com/mark-andrews-rape-abuse-child-jailed-181018866.html?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_refe%E2%80%A6%202/8 (Jan. 11, 2023).

Commentary and Checklist

This victim was abused when she was a minor during the 1980s to 1990s, but reported the abuse only recently. This is known as delayed disclosure, and it  is common. Experts report that, “while it may seem intuitive that a survivor would disclose abuse when it happened, data reveals a different reality. In a study of over 1,000 survivors, the average age at the time of reporting child sex abuse was about 52 years.” https://childusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Delayed-Disclosure-Factsheet-2020.pdf

It is difficult for a child to disclose sexual abuse. That is why delay alone does not mean sexual abuse did not occur.

That is also why safe adults who have a suspicion that child sexual abuse is occurring must report it to local law enforcement or the local child protection agency immediately, so the victim can get help. Authorities will investigate to determine the facts.

Factors that impact whether a victim delays disclosure include:

  • Age of the child: younger children are more likely to delay disclosure or be unwilling to disclose the abuse.
  • Sex of the child: male victims tend to be more reluctant to disclose abuse and take longer to make a full disclosure.
  • Special needs or minority children face increased challenges in disclosing abuse.
  • The child is fearful - of the perpetrator or of not being believed
  • The child is embarrassed or full of shame
  • Children who live where there is domestic violence, substance abuse, and a lack of familial support may not disclose abuse
  • Relationship to the perpetrator: one of the primary barriers to a child's willingness to disclose abuse. Some children trust or think they love the abuser.
  • Severity of the abuse: victims who suffer more severe abuse and/or those who suffer abuse by more than one perpetrator tend to be unwilling to disclose abuse
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