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Why Don’t Children Speak Up About Being Sexually Abused?

Childhood sexual abuse is not always about Stranger Danger, which most parents warn their children about.

It happens within the family home 

Children may be abused by family members, which many find too hard to even contemplate. How could a mother, father, uncle, aunt, sister, brother, cousin, or grandparent abuse a child? A child they are meant to protect? 

Who would want to have sex with a child? Yet, it happens more times than you would imagine.

It’s reported that on average it takes someone 8 years to speak up and tell someone about the abuse they experienced. I would argue that it probably takes decades. And there are many more who are still unable to speak about it.


 Grooming takes many forms often with the abuser bribing the child with treats, mostly those they don’t receive at home. Ranging from sweets, days out, or new toys. The child is made to feel special, where they may not feel so at home. Perhaps due to lack of parenting, parents working long hours, other children, lack of money, sickness, demands of extended family. The list goes on.


The abuser relies heavily on secrecy, and that’s how they are able to continue. Children are sworn to secrecy with the threat of harm, that no one will believe them or withdrawal of the treats they receive. Sometimes the abuse is focussed on one child in the family, at other times more. With each child unaware that their siblings are also being subjected to sexual abused. They may only learn about it - if ever - later in adulthood.

Age and Gender

Child sexual abusers are often drawn to a particular age range, and once the child has reached that age, the abuser loses interest. They are also often focused on one gender, but not always. I have often been asked by a survivor, why they were singled out, rather than one of their siblings, and sometimes we can only guess it was age or gender related.

Protecting Others

I have heard stories of children putting themselves forward to their abuser to protect their siblings, in the hope their siblings will escape the abuse if they do so. Others are worried about their parents learning about what is happening that, wanting to protect them from worrying, protecting them from the distress of hearing what happened to them, or learning that a family member has done this to their child.

Physiological response

Many children are worried that they ‘enjoyed’ the abuse. Apart from receiving attention affection they may receice, they may eperience bodily pleasure, which they find hard to acknowledge or feel they are partly to blame. What in fact happened was a physiological response. From the age of around 4 or 5 both boys and girls often feel pleasure from touching their own genitals. However, they don’t fully understand what is happening, only that it creates a pleasurable feeling. Because of this they can often feel bad that they ‘enjoyed’ it, and mistakenly feel they are at fault.


That feeling of ‘pleasure ‘ can then go on to create shame. As well as shame that they didn’t speak up, and tell someone. Shame that it was their fault, and they had done something to encourage it. For example, the way they dressed, acted, spoke. Taking on the responsibility that firmly belonged with the adult abuser. Children are curious about everything around them and it’s up to adults to control the boundaries.


Children don’t speak out and don’t tell their caregiver or other adult, or seek help from others because of fear. As I’ve already mentioned abusers instil fear into the child. Not only of what they will inflict on the child but of the consequences. They may tell the child that they will sent away into care, or threaten them with punishment if they tell. Or even what may happen to other family members.

Not Believed

Why would a child be believed? Who would take the word of a child over the word of an adult? That is how a child thinks and will be reminded by their abuser. Sadly there have been incidents where the child has spoken up, and either they have not been believed, or it has been played down, with the adult brushing it aside.


I don’t know what else I can call this. It sounds horrific to even write about it. But I have heard cases where a child was sacrificed by their mother. Allowing the child to be the sacrificial lamb, it meant their mother escaped being sexually abused themselves. It’s pretty sickening to read, I’m sure.

 Children are resilient

This is such a copout in my opinion. Children are incredibly adept at finding ways of coping with unimaginable situattions. Often they become numb, as a way of coping, or they dissociate. This may ‘work’ in the short term, but not always, and forgotten memories can come flooding back, causing flashbacks and nightmares,  acting out, anger issues, as well as mental health issues. Complex PTSD, anxiety, stress, and relationship issues. It can also manifest in physical ways, with illnesses arising.

The long-lasting legacy

So many areas of a child’s life are affected and it carries on way into adulthood.

  • How can they trust anyone? The trust they put into someone who purported to care for them.

  • How can they respect authority?  The very adult who was supposed to protect them.

  • How can they form meaningful romantic relationships? When they feel the shame and guilt of their experiences.

Survivors often feel dirty, and disgusted at themselves when the shame firmly belongs with the abuser. They may make unsuitable choices when it comes to romantic partners or experience sexual-related problems.

If you have experienced child sexual abuse, then firstly let me remind you that it Wasn't Your Fault. Secondly, seek some help and support, But someone who doesn't insist you retell what happened, unless you choose to. Trained professionals discourage this as it can retraumatise the victim/survivor. Ensure that you trust the professional and that they have experience in working with survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse.

Do not be persuaded to report the abuser, unless and until you feel comfortable to do so.

If you would like an informal chat, then email me or book a call -












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