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Children's self -disclosure of sexual abuse: Effects of victim, perpetrator, and abuse characteristics

Mary Lou Paine, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


A child's disclosure of sexual abuse is critical to end the abuse, initiate legal and therapeutic intervention, and protect other children. Research findings indicate delayed disclosure is the norm and many victims never disclose. An extensive review of the literature revealed few empirical studies specific to disclosure. Most studies have examined disclosure in the context of a formal abuse investigation, medical examination, or psychotherapy. Using an archival design, data was gathered on 103 victims (75 girls, 32 boys) accessed through the files of convicted adult males who received treatment in an inpatient sex-offender program. The study was a comprehensive, integrated examination of self-disclosure of sexual abuse by child victims prior to investigation. The effects of victim, perpetrator, victim-perpetrator relationship, and abuse characteristics on disclosure and delay to disclosure were examined. Gender differences in abuse characteristics and aspects of disclosure were also examined. Delay to disclosure proved to be a more sensitive measure with the capacity to detect degrees of reluctance. Abuse by a parent/parent-figure, penetration, home violence, abuse duration, and younger age at onset were associated with significantly longer disclosure delays. Prior research reveals mixed findings regarding gender differences in disclosure. It is generally believed boys are more hesitant than girls to disclose. Findings of the present study revealed no gender differences in rates of disclosure prior to investigation. The mean disclosure delay was twice as long for girls than boys, however. The gender difference observed appeared secondary to the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator. Compared to boys, proportionately more girls were victimized by a parent/parent-figure and fewer were victimized by a non-family member. The confidant delayed or failed to report the abuse to the appropriate authorities in 24% of the cases in which the victim disclosed. Social and research implications are discussed. Suggestions are offered for data collection during investigative interviews in order to facilitate research on disclosure and reporting failures. ^

Subject Area

Psychology, Clinical|Sociology, Public and Social Welfare

Recommended Citation

Paine, Mary Lou, "Children's self -disclosure of sexual abuse: Effects of victim, perpetrator, and abuse characteristics" (2000). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI9967400.