Updated: May 18, 2022
This article was written by Kayelene Kerr from eSafeKids.
An adult's response to a child or young person's disclosure of abuse can be central to their ongoing safety and recovery from the trauma of abuse.
What does Disclosure mean?
Disclosure is the term used to describe the process by which a person conveys or attempts to convey that they are being or have been sexually abused. A more child friendly term is 'telling'.
Disclosure can take many forms and can be verbal (spoken words) and non-verbal (eg drawing, writing, behavioural changes).
No one noticed, no one heard
The UK report No one noticed, no one heard described the experiences of help-seeking by men and women who experienced abuse and violence in childhood and adolescence. This research highlighted the important role adults play in noticing the signs of abuse and hearing disclosures in all their forms.
The report found that 90% of young people had either a mixed (50%) or broadly negative (40%) experience of disclosure due to a range of factors including:
Receiving little emotional support
Initial disclosures being ignored
Accusations of lying
Disclosures being poorly handled or not linked
Disturbingly, the latest Australian Childhood Foundation report found:
1 in 3 Australians would not believe children if they disclosed that they were being abused
1 in 5 lack the confidence to know what to do if they suspect that a child is being abused or neglected
Why victims may not disclose abuse
It's important to understand many children who are being/have been abused do not disclose their abuse until adulthood, if at all.
The Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse found:
20.6% of victim-survivors took between 20 and 29 years to disclose child sexual abuse
55.7% of victim-survivors took more than 30 years to disclose sexual abuse
Research suggests that those experiencing intra-familial abuse (inside the family) are less likely to disclose than those experiencing extra-familial abuse (outside the family).
There are many and varied reasons why people don't disclose abuse, these can include:
Shame, self blame and embarrassment
Feeling responsible for the abuse
Fear of not being believed
Fear of negative consequences
Believing abuse is 'normal'
Having no-one to disclose to
Fear of threatened or perceived violence
Anxiety over the confidentiality of their information
The perpetrators relationship to the victim (eg someone loved/trusted/respected in the family or community)
The words every child should hear if they disclose abuse
Child abuse can have profound and lasting impacts. The complex trauma experienced by victims can affect all aspects of their life and future generations. Your response to a disclosure can be an important step in a victims recovery process.
Visit the eSafeKids Members' Community and download this poster. The rear of the poster provides further information about reporting child abuse. Consider displaying the poster in your school staff room or organisation so people can learn the script.
What you can do to be supportive if a someone discloses abuse
If a child discloses abuse to you it’s important you follow your organisations policy and procedures, and your mandatory and non-mandatory reporting obligations.
Move to a suitable location, free from distraction.
Give the child or young person your full attention.
Try to maintain a calm appearance.
Don't be afraid of saying the "wrong" thing.
Be patient. Accept the child or young person will disclose only what is comfortable and recognise the bravery/strength of the child for talking about something that is difficult.
Reassure the child or young person it is right to tell.
Let the child or young person take their time.
Let the child or young person use their own words.
If you require further information don’t ask leading questions. Use an open question, "Tell me more about …" "Explain that ..." "Describe ..."
Don't make promises you can't keep.
Tell the child or young person what you plan to do next.
Make notes about the conversation as soon as you can.
Do not confront the perpetrator.
Mandatory and Non-Mandatory Reporting Requirements
In Australia, state and territory governments are responsible for receiving reports of suspected child abuse and neglect from members of the public. Anyone who suspects, on reasonable grounds, that a child or young person is at risk of being abused and/or neglected should report it to the reporting authority in their state or territory. Mandatory and Non-Mandatory reporting requirements vary throughout Australian states and territories.
For information about mandatory reporting requirements including who is mandated to report visit this website.
Primary School Children
Within the school context, whole school approaches that are continuous, sequential and integrated into the curriculum are most valuable.
Child friendly books can support educators teaching protective behaviours and child abuse prevention education that aligns with the Western Australian Curriculum, Australian Curriculum, Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) and National Quality Framework: National Quality Standards (NQS).
You'll find a range of books on the eSafeKids website.
Secondary age young people
The Royal Commission identified a barrier to disclose is not understanding sex, sexual abuse and boundaries. I believe there remains a critical need for sexual abuse prevention education to be delivered to secondary school age young people.
In 2011 The Hon Peter Blaxell commenced a Special Inquiry ‘St Andrew’s Hostel Katanning: How the system and society failed our children’. The Blaxell Inquiry highlighted that historically, the teaching has been poor in the area of sex education and protective behaviours, specifically stating it has been:
“... of a very low quality and usually limited to the occasional warnings of the “stranger danger” variety. The standard stereotype of child molesters being old men in raincoats sidling up to the school yard was very misleading for children."
Learn more about Talking About Sexual Abuse here.
You'll find the Royal Commission Final Report here.
To learn more about eSafeKids workshops and training visit our services page.
To view our wide range of child friendly resources visit our online shop.
Join the free eSafeKids online Members' Community. It has been created to support and inspire you in your home, school, organisation and/or community setting.
About The Author
Kayelene Kerr is recognised as one of Western Australia’s most experienced specialist providers of Protective Behaviours, Body Safety, Cyber Safety, Digital Wellness and Pornography education workshops. Kayelene is passionate about the prevention of child abuse and sexual exploitation, drawing on over 24 years’ experience of study and law enforcement, investigating sexual crimes, including technology facilitated crimes. Kayelene delivers engaging and sought after prevention education workshops to educate, equip and empower children and young people, and to help support parents, carers, educators and other professionals. Kayelene believes protecting children from harm is a shared responsibility and everyone can play a role in the care, safety and protection of children. Kayelene aims to inspire the trusted adults in children’s lives to tackle sometimes challenging topics.
eSafeKids strives to reduce and prevent harm through proactive prevention education, supporting and inspiring parents, carers, educators and other professionals to talk with children, young people and vulnerable adults about protective behaviours, body safety, cyber safety, digital wellness and pornography. eSafeKids is based in Perth, Western Australia.
eSafeKids provides books and resources to teach children about social and emotional intelligence, resilience, empathy, gender equality, consent, body safety, protective behaviours, cyber safety, digital wellness, media literacy, puberty and pornography.
eSafeKids books can support educators teaching protective behaviours and child abuse prevention education that aligns with the Western Australian Curriculum, Australian Curriculum, Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) and National Quality Framework: National Quality Standards (NQS).