From child abuse related videos circulating on social media, to child abuse news making headlines, the intensity of the issue has always been in the limelight. However, there are many more cases that have gone unreported and undetected, often because children do not disclose abuse and get help. About 43% of children deny or are not willing to disclose abuse even after medical evidence or confessions from the abusers have been obtained.
Among the many reasons that hold back a child from speaking out, the following 4 reasons appear to be prominent:
1. Perpetrator relationship
Children who share close relationship with perpetrators are less likely to disclose in the event of getting abused. In a family where one of the parents is abusive and the other is not, children tend to remain silent to protect the other parent, such as not to break up the family.
For children who do wish to disclose, fear often stands in the way. Be it a fear of loss or consequences, children rather suffer in silence than to face the fear. The most common fear that cripples children is the worry of “nowhere left to call home”. Besides that, awareness on existing help from formal agencies and professionals is still low among children.
3. Developmental barriers
Developmental barriers also influence children’s ability to disclose because they either do not realize that the abuse is happening or they do not possess the vocabulary to articulate what is happening to them. Children are prone to misunderstand abuse as simply part of disciplinary actions.
4. Abuser’s tactics
Abusers commonly use a combination of manipulation and threats to prevent the child victim from telling anyone about their abuse. Manipulation techniques include telling the child that it is normal, promising it would never happen again, or presenting them with a gift. Perpetrators also use threats and intimidation techniques to silence the child victim. These include asserting actual violence, threatening to harm someone the child has great affection towards, and imposing threats on the child’s safety.
What to do when a child discloses to you?
In the situation where a child discloses to you, it is critical to handle with appropriate measure. The following can be used as a guide to how the situation should be handled.
- Listen: Avoid expressing your own views, reaction of shock or disbelief. Instead, it is important to assure support for the child by just listening carefully to what the child has to say.
- Reassure the child that disclosure is the right thing: This would give a boost of confidence to the child who goes through recurring abuse. Also assure them it is not their fault that the abuse has happened to them.
- Do not make promises you can’t keep: Fearing the consequences that might happen to the abusers, children would often ask for the listener’s promise not to disclose. The listener should, however, not promise that they would not disclose, and instead assure the child’s safety upon disclosure of the abuser to the authorities.
- Explain on the next action to be taken: If age appropriate, it is important to inform the child on the next step in a way that he/she will understand. Avoid using the name of organisations and authorities. Instead, state the organisation’s purpose and how it can help.
- Avoid confronting the perpetrator: By doing so, the child victim’s safety is at risk. It is better to leave it to the authorities or professionals to handle the situation.
- Report the abuse as soon as possible: The sooner the abuse is reported, the more accurate the details that can be given, ensuring appropriate actions can be taken quickly.