Exploring the disclosure of child sexual abuse with alleged victims and their parents

Irit Hershkowitz, Omer Lanes, Michael E. Lamb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: The goal of the present study was to examine how children disclosed sexual abuse by alleged perpetrators who were not family members. Methodology: Thirty alleged victims of sexual abuse and their parents were interviewed. The children were interviewed using the NICHD Investigative Interview Protocol by six experienced youth investigators. The same principles were followed when the parents were asked to describe in detail what had happened since the abusive incidents. The statements made by the children and parents were then content analyzed. Major characteristics of the children's and parents' reported behaviors were identified by two independent raters. Findings: More than half (53%) of the children delayed disclosure for between 1 week and 2 years, fewer than half first disclosed to their parents, and over 40% did not disclose spontaneously but did so only after they were prompted; 50% of the children reported feeling afraid or ashamed of their parents' responses, and their parents indeed tended to blame the children or act angrily. The disclosure process varied depending on the children's ages, the severity and frequency of abuse, the parents' expected reactions, the suspects' identities, and the strategies they had used to foster secrecy. Conclusions: The children's willingness to disclose abuse to their parents promptly and spontaneously decreased when they expected negative reactions, especially when the abuse was more serious. A strong correlation between predicted and actual parental reactions suggested that the children anticipated their parents' likely reactions very well.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)111-123
Number of pages13
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2007


  • Child victims
  • Disclosure
  • Sexual abuse

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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