Telling Someone

Like rape, child molestation is one of the most underreported crimes: only 1-10% is ever reported.

Source: FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin

69% of reported teen sexual assaults occurred in the residence of the victim, the offender or another individual.

Source: Snyder, 2000.

Among CSA survivors, 16% of female victims never disclosed [told anyone] the abuse, whereas this proportion rose to 30% for male victims.

Source: [28]. 28. Hébert M, Tourigny M, Cyr M, McDuff P, Joly J: Prevalence of childhood sexual abuse and timing of disclosure in a representative sample of adults from the province of Quebec. Can J Psychiatry 2009, 54:631–636. 

Source: Collin-Vézina et al. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health: Lessons learned from child sexual abuse research: prevalence, outcomes, and preventive strategies, 2013.



Research demonstrates that many survivors of sexual abuse or assault either do not disclose their experiences (e.g., Coker et al., 2002; Kogan, 2004, Ullman, 2010) or wait a long time to do so (e.g., Alaggia, 2004, Ullman, 2010).

  • Some victims tell someone about CSA in childhood (30-58%), but many delay disclosure for years or until adulthood (42-75%) and some never disclose at all (28-60%) (Ullman, 2003).
  • For male victims, it typically takes 30 years to reach a point of in-depth discussion:
  • It is not until in-depth discussion that individual may “discover” the link between CSA experience and current mental health and other problems.

Disclosure is a process. It’s important to recognize that there is a difference between telling, disclosing and reporting.

Gross and McMullen (1983), proposed a three-stage model of help seeking behavior. A victim must:

  1. perceive there is a problem
  2. decide to seek help
  3. operationalize strategies to alleviate the problem (Menard, 2005).

Reasons for not disclosing are varied and include:

  • fear of not being believed
  • fear of being blamed for the assault
  • embarrassment/shame
  • wanting to protect others
  • fear of losing one’s family
  • temporary amnesia
  • feelings of responsibility
  • threats from the abuser

Reasons for not reporting are varied and include:

  • may not recognize abuse as a crime
  • perceived personal and social benefit does not outweigh the perceived personal and social costs
  • feels criminal justice process will be too difficult
  • advice from family or friend
  • threats from the absuser

Being believed is paramount; it is logical to surmise that the ability to prosecute, face one’s abuser, and subsequently prove the allegation leads to lower levels of PTSD. If a survivor discloses and receives a negative response it can be expected the individual will experience worse psychological outcomes.  Those who disclose and receive a low negative response experience a low level of PTSD, while those who disclose and receive a high negative response experience experienced a high level of PTSD.  (Walsh et al, 2010. Ullman, 2010).

Disclosing to formal providers such as police is associated with poorer outcomes and has been acknowledged in research as a potential source of secondary victimization. (Ullman, 2010).