University of Toronto Magazine University of Toronto Magazine

Why Kids Keep Quiet about Abuse

Social isolation and rigid gender roles within the family are two factors, says prof

Children who don’t tell anyone about being sexually abused often come from families that have rigid gender roles and other similar characteristics, according to a U of T researcher.

After conducting interviews with 38 adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, Professor Ramona Alaggia of social work identified several recurrent themes. She found that survivors (who did not initially disclose their abuse) often came from families where fathers were head of the household and mothers had little power. There was often family violence (spousal abuse and other forms of child abuse) and a lack of communication. Social isolation also prevailed: the child or the family as a whole did not fit into their environment and did not have social supports, leaving the child feeling that he or she had no one safe to tell.

“It is important to identify disclosure barriers so they can be eradicated. When children are not able to disclose sexual abuse, the effects are potentially devastating,” says Alaggia. “Professionals need to cultivate the necessary skills to pick up on cues and difficult-to-discern patterns of behaviour in children that may indicate the presence of sexual abuse.”

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