Children and young people often choose not to disclose sexual abuse, thus preventing access to help and allowing perpetrators to continue undetected. A nuanced understanding of the barriers (and facilitators) to disclosure is therefore of great relevance to practitioners and researchers. The literature was systematically searched for studies related to child and adolescent disclosures of sexual abuse. Thirteen studies were reviewed and assessed for methodological quality. Results of the review illustrate the heterogeneous nature of these empirical studies. Findings demonstrate that young people face a number of different barriers such as limited support, perceived negative consequences and feelings of self-blame, shame and guilt, when choosing to disclose. Being asked or prompted, through provision of developmentally appropriate information, about sexual abuse facilitates disclosure. The review highlights the need for robust, longitudinal studies with more sophisticated methodology to replicate findings. The review identifies the need for developmentally appropriate school-based intervention programmes that facilitate children’s disclosure by reducing feelings of responsibility, self-blame, guilt and shame. In addition, prevention programmes should encourage family members, friends and frontline professionals to identify clues of sexual abuse, to explicitly ask children about the possibility of sexual abuse and also to respond supportively should disclosures occur. Facilitating disclosure in this way is key to safeguarding victims and promoting better outcomes for child and adolescent survivors of sexual abuse.
- sexual abuse