Why Kids Don’t Tell

Telling someone about sexual abuse is very hard for children. The sad news is that children often don’t tell anyone when they’ve been sexually abused. But the good news is that when they do tell, they almost never lie about it.

There are many reasons why children don’t tell anyone about sexual abuse. Some common reasons are:

  • They have been taught to obey adults.
  • They have promised to keep the abuse secret.
  • They have been bribed to keep it a secret.
  • They have been threatened by the offender to keep it a secret and are scared to tell.
  • They feel guilty because they believe that the abuse is their fault.
  • They are ashamed to tell.
  • They are confused because the offender is someone they know and trust.
  • They have been convinced that the abuse is normal or okay.
  • They are too young to know that the abuse isn’t appropriate—especially if it’s done by someone they know and trust.
  • They have not been taught that the abuse is not okay.
  • They don’t know the words to use to tell.

Child sexual abuse survivors Melisa and Nicole talk about why they didn’t tell anyone about their abuse:

How You Can Help Children Tell

If you want your children to feel comfortable enough to tell about sexual abuse, the most important thing to do is to talk to them about it. Many of the reasons children don’t tell can be avoided by talking to your child—about everything from the correct names for private body parts to what a secret is and why it shouldn’t be kept.

And adults need education, too. You can help protect your child by learning as much as you can about child sexual abuse, who the offenders are, and how to respond if your child tells you about abuse.

It helps too if children learn about private body parts safety in school. You can encourage your child’s school to teach a personal safety curriculum. This also helps children understand that they can tell teachers or other adults at school. This is sometimes easier than telling an adult at home, especially if the abuser is a member of the family. Studies show that learning about sexual abuse at school does not result in children making false reports.

And last but not least, make sure your children know that if they do tell, you’ll believe them.