Young boy

Sharing – Why a child might not disclose abuse (and how to word a question in a way that may promote disclosure)

The post below, from the Flying Child blog, is one person’s recollection of being asked about abuse as a child. I found it enlightening, and hope you will as well. I do believe this is important to understand how often a child being abused will say they are not even when asked, and why.

It is important to recognise that survivors may have very different reasons for not speaking out. Here I draw upon my personal experiences of being asked if I was/had been abused but I can’t speak for others. I was asked by three close members of my family and one counsellor who had been asked to see me as I showed signs that troubled my family. I was ten.

Personally, I was not asked, and that experience has always been a huge part of the things I suggest when it comes to keeping kids safe. No one asked me, and I grew up in a family where secrets were common, and honesty was not nearly as important as keeping the peace. Of course, in that environment, I wasn’t going to come out and tell anyone, but this post makes me wonder if, had anyone asked, I would have said yes.

I kind of doubt it. Mostly because I was in my 20s before I even used the word “abuse” in my own head. At ten, if someone asked if I was being sexually abused, I don’t think I would have even known what that meant.

So, that’s one obvious example where we need to think about what we ask kids, how we ask, what words we use, how much of a “big deal” the situation is, etc. Because it can matter, and we might even need to ask more than once, in a variety of ways.

As the post goes on to mention, we have been trained to not ask leading questions, in order to be able to use the answer in court later, and, generally, that’s a good thing. But, how often are we missing an opportunity to reach kids who are hesitant to talk about what is happening because of that? Maybe, we should worry about finding out what is actually happening to a child before we worry about what will stand up in court. We don’t get anywhere by asking kids overwhelming questions that make them shut down.

At least we can consider the possibility that we are actually doing the thing the abuser claimed would happen if the child ever told, a big, scary deal that kids would do anything to avoid, including remain silent about abuse.

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