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Always a Voice

Empowering Survivors of Abuse & Trauma


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:

  • Perceive there is a problem
  • Decide to seek help
  • 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
  • Religious mandates and/or misapplied beliefs
  • Societal and/or cultural practices/beliefs
  • Fear of the unknown
  • PTSD

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
  • Extreme religious beliefs/laws
  • Societal and/or cultural practices/beliefs
  • Fear of the unknown
  • PTSD

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).


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.

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.

Credit: Foundation for Survivors of Abuse