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Dealing with A disclosure of child sexual abuse from a Young person

Dealing with A disclosure of child sexual abuse from a Young person

                             Written by Rain45


To speak out about sexual abuse takes a lot of courage.  For Young People who finally do make the decision to speak out, it can be a major turning point in that young person’s life.  Anyone supporting a young person should be aware that their response to a disclosure is crucially important, as the young person concerned, is placing themselves into a position of absolute vulnerability.  Most Survivors, no matter what their age, may test people out by giving small pieces of information before deciding to make full disclosure.  This is called testing the waters before they take a leap of faith and dive in and is to be expected.

Do not Panic

If a young person. approaches you and begins to disclose about abuse they have/are suffering, they have chosen you, because perhaps they feel safe and must trust you to some extent.  This can be seen as a privilege that you have been that safe person to whom they feel able to turn.  Many people worry about supporting survivors, fearing they do not have the necessary skills or knowledge to know how to support someone effectively, or they don’t know what to do.  Some people may have an overwhelming need or desire to pass the young person onto someone else, who they consider to be more experienced or skilled in this area.  If you keep a calm head, and engage active listening skills, showing empathy, warmth and acceptance of that young person and their story, you are more than likely able to handle it.


Many people are good listeners, whether trained in listening skills or not.  But when placed under pressure, people may find they do not listen as well as they could normally, and some people may find they talk too much under such pressure.  Once a survivor makes the decision to disclose, its important they’re given the space to share, to offload and to express how they feel.  This is hampered when people feel a need to say things such as “Oh I know what you mean, oh that must have been terrible, oh you poor thing etc”.  Silence too, can be important in allowing the young person to be given time to find the courage and strength to say whatever they need to.  It’s important not to fill that silence preventing the survivor from being able to talk freely.  Survivors of course, would like a response, to know they’ve been heard, to know they’re not talking to a brick wall and so it’s important to try and strike a balance between giving them the space they need, whilst acknowledging what they are sharing with you.


Abuse is a hard issue for many people to speak out about, both adult and young people.  For young people, there’s a fear of being disbelieved and subsequently rejected.  For those young people who perhaps have tried to speak out previously, they may have found it difficult to be clear enough about their experiences for others to understand what they are trying to disclose, or they may have been disbelieved, and even blamed.  This is particularly so where abuse has taken place within the family.  Some abusers are seen as respectable members of society and because of this, some people may find it difficult to perceive them any differently.  Consequently, Survivors sadly, are disbelieved and not heard.  Survivors themselves can often expect to be disbelieved for after all, they’re the ones living with the unbelievable.


Child Sexual abuse, is about a total loss of power and control.  Any decision a young person makes must be theirs alone.  They must be allowed wher possible to regain some sense of power and control over their life and their decisions.  It’s very helpful to explore with a young person what their options are, even making suggestions but they must be allowed to make decisions that feel right for them, even if you believe that decision to be bad or wrong.  Speaking out about abuse can be seen as the right thing to do and empowering, but not all Survivors are ready to do that.  When working with young people,  there’s often a desire to want to rush in, report to the police or to social services.  This is quite a natural response for many people who encounter a young person’s disclosure of abuse.  But, bear in mind, that in doing so, this could make the situation potentially worse for the young person and the Survivor themselves, may not be ready for that step.  Obviously any action taken may also be dependent on if you work in an agency where there is protocol to report any suspected or actual abuse that is occurring.  In this kind of situation, if it felt that a young person is about to disclose abuse issues, you can outline the confidentiality policy to the young person and allow them to make the decision as to whether to proceed.

There’s also a risk should an adult rush in to try and do something the young person doesnt want, that the young person will try and ‘protect themselves’ as they see it and retract their story.  With younger children, not in a position to  take action themselves, who are so young they do not understand what is happening to them, let alone understand about empowerment, it may be necessary for people to step in to protect them.  The older the child, the more ability they may have to make the decisions that they feel is right for them.

Don’t try and make it better!

When faced with a situation in which a person is extremely distressed, it’s only natural that for the majority of people, they’ve a wish to try and make things better for the person concerned.  When it comes to childhood sexual abuse, sitting down with a nice cup of tea and for a chat, is not going to magically make things okay.  Sadly, the only person who can truly make things better is the survivor themselves.  This could be by speaking out, seeking support, working through the many issues they will need to work through etc.  As a supporter of someone who has suffered abuse, your role is important in terms of offering them the much needed support, but your wishes as a supporter is secondary to that of the Survivors.

Support for the supporter

Dealing with trauma issues as a supporter is tough and it’s important  this is not overlooked.  Listening to any Survivor disclosing about abuse, can be a painful experience in itself.  But please remember, the pain is not yours to take away, the pain is the Survivors.  Bear in mind, that whilst abuse may not have featured in your life, and therefore, something so very abhorrent and abnormal, for some survivors, abuse is normal.  It’s all they may have known.  You may be a Survivor yourself, and disclosures by others may stir up your own issues.  It’s important to seek support should you need this and perhaps consider things such as the confidentiality policy with regards being able to offload to another person.  Get support for you if this is needed.

Recognise the strength and courage it takes for someone to disclose to you about their very painful and difficult experiences and  feelings.  If you try imagining how uncomfortable and embarrassing it can be for anyone to talk about a good sexual experience, just stop and think for one moment of how very difficult and painful it is for the Survivor to talk about unpleasant and traumatic experiences.

Remember  Abuse is never, ever the fault of the Survivor.  No matter what the circumstances, no matter whether they fought back or not, responsibility for abuse always lies with the perpetrators.  Let the Survivor know it was not their fault, that they did nothing wrong.  Never judge them or their situations.  Lots of Survivors are threatened and told it was their fault, they may have been forced or coerced into situations of other peoples making.  It’s never a Survivor’s fault.  Lay no blame or guilt at their door.

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