Childhood Sexual Abuse (CSA) is a harrowing experience and talking about it can be extremely problematic for the victims. This article strives to identify the reasons why victims of CSA struggle to disclose relevant information and ways in which they can be empowered to open up. 

By: Anusha Khurram

Many people experience childhood sexual abuse before turning 18. This traumatic experience carries serious long-term effects, and often gets overlooked due to the fact that many children either wait too long to, or simply do not, report the abuse. While children are often afraid to disclose their experiences, there are many ways to help create safe spaces for them to share their stories. Helping children through this experience allows them to process their trauma in a safe environment to help better their future. 

Experiencing child abuse impacts the child’s physical health and can result in adverse psychosocial, psychological, and socioeconomic outcomes. Some research has found that discussing CSA early with friends, family, or experienced counsellors can protect the child against detrimental psychological impacts in adulthood, and help empower the child to overcome the negative long-term effects of CSA (Jeglic)

However, the issue remains that many children do not disclose their abuse. It is necessary to find ways to understand why people do not open up about this and what we can do to encourage victims to come forward with their experiences. 

Why Do Children Find It Difficult To Disclose Abuse?

CSA is severely traumatic, and early intervention can significantly help mitigate the effects of experiencing something so harmful. It’s common for someone who’s experienced CSA to turn to substances or risky behaviors later in life to cope with the psychological trauma. 

There are very few preventative resources in place designed to address the early signs of CSA. While there are some levels of resources in place, they typically focus on making efforts after the abuse has already occurred ( This means that often, the lack of disclosure of the abuse comes from children’s many internal and external barriers. 

Below, we will discuss some of the reasons victims choose to keep it hidden.

Self-Blame and Feelings of Guilt and Shame

Victims of CSA often don’t tell others about their experience because they believe they were responsible, and they can tend to blame themselves. Additionally, most cases involve sexual grooming, where the abuser aims and exploits ways to abuse the child. This further leads to feelings of guilt and shame (Jeglic). These manipulation tactics used by abusers result in negative feelings of self-blame and hurt for the victim. 


Abusers will try to use fear-inducing methods to contain the abuse without being detected. Often, the abuser may threaten the victim or the victim’s loved ones. This leaves the victim feeling helpless and afraid that someone else may get hurt.  Additionally, in most cases, there is an age difference between the abuser and the victim, which leads to a power imbalance. The power imbalance is used to the abuser’s advantage to invoke fear and control over the victim. 

Having a Relationship with the Abuser

Many children will know their abusers — through family or friends — and that may prevent them from telling someone. The child may worry that no one will believe them or that telling someone could harm them and their relationships.

Lack of Understanding

Depending on the victim’s age and how developmentally mature they are, the child may not be able to grasp what is happening entirely. The abuser will be able to convince younger children, or those who are slightly impaired, that what they are doing is fine, especially if the abuser is someone they know and trust. Frequently, they cannot see the signs of abuse until they are older. 


Due to many harmful stereotypes, males are less likely to disclose the abuse they are experiencing compared to females. There is a lot of stigma around male survivors of sexual abuse, which leads victims to feel shame and fear, thus, preventing them from sharing their experiences. 

How Can We Get Victims Of Childhood Sexual Abuse To Talk?

Disclosure can be a very tricky process. It’s a complex issue that can potentially be negative for the survivor. For example, if the victim is shunned or not believed after disclosure, it might lead to further victimization. Further victimization occurs because the individual is left vulnerable and hurt, which makes them easier targets for other abuse. Furthermore, when a victim’s story is not being listened to, it may cause them to second-guess and blame themselves. Additionally, if disclosure does not end in a conviction, it can be very distressing for the victim. 

That being said, disclosure is essential and one of the only ways individuals can intervene and prevent it. In one study, survivors of CSA were asked what might help facilitate disclosure sooner rather than later (Winters et al.). Some of their suggestions are outlined below.

Education and Awareness

Many individuals do not know about CSA. It is a topic that is rarely discussed and has a lot of stigma surrounding it. Due to the lack of access to the right resources and information, people are unlikely to know how prevalent it is. People should look towards educating themselves on the signs of CSA and what to do if they think a child is a victim. It’s especially vital to educate children and their families on CSA, and ensure open dialogue with their children to facilitate easy communication on serious topics like CSA. Ultimately, discussions about what it is and how to report it can significantly help victims come forward and disclose their experiences. 

Improved Criminal Justice Practices

It’s been found that many survivors that disclose their abuse did so to prevent further abuse from happening to themselves and others, to punish the abuser, and to allow treatment for all parties involved (Jeglic). The hope is that the abusers are held accountable for the crimes committed, which will help encourage more disclosure. Thus, criminal justice practices must focus on how to minimize harm to the victims and provide education to the community. 

Emotional Motivation

CSA has many negative emotions (fear, shame, guilt, anger, etc.). Support from their loved ones and society will strengthen their confidence and encourage them to disclose more. They are children processing complicated emotions, but by providing them with support, resources, and counselling, they will be more receptive to outside aid. Once they can reveal their experience, resources will be available to them to begin to facilitate healing.. 

Social Support 

Often, when a child experiences CSA, they feel alone (Jeglic). They need a robust support system through this journey. Having the support may help them feel more comfortable in sharing their experience. For example, having friends and family showing their support for the victim can help instil confidence to come forward. Additionally, if society begins dismantling the stigma around abuse, there will be more accurate information surrounding CSA, which can help encourage survivors to tell their stories. It is vital to have resources available for everyone on what to do if abuse is disclosed and how to help. 

Sexual abuse and disclosure of it can be complex — many barriers prevent individuals from reporting their experiences. A traumatic experience like childhood sexual abuse has many consequences for the victim and can make it challenging to share their experiences. However, with the support of friends, family, authorities, and the community, resources can be readily available to help in the disclosing process and help to further the healing process. 

Works Cited

Fast Facts: Preventing Child Sexual Abuse |Violence Prevention|Injury Center|CDC. 9 June 2022,

Jeglic, Elizabeth. Why Children Don’t Tell Anyone About Sexual Abuse | Psychology Today Canada. Accessed 6 July 2022.

Winters, Georgia M., et al. “Why Do Child Sexual Abuse Victims Not Tell Anyone about Their Abuse? An Exploration of Factors That Prevent and Promote Disclosure.” Behavioral Sciences & the Law, vol. 38, 2020, pp. 586–611.