Surviving a traumatic experience as horrible as child sexual abuse takes remarkable endurance. However, studies show that one in five survivors never reveal the abuse, which remains unreported to the authorities. For those eventually disclosing their painful past, the delay spans decades.
Recognizing the complex psychology and other relevant factors driving delayed disclosures can encourage survivors to hold perpetrators liable for their crimes.
Understanding the causes of delay
Disclosing the abuse after several years of trying to delay it is like reliving the experience for many adults. It triggers feelings of shame, guilt and self-blame. Some also fear unpredictable or harmful consequences when they finally tell others.
Aside from these internal barriers, causes for the delay may also be external, such as:
- Threats from the perpetrator to harm them and their families
- “Sexual grooming behaviors” or manipulative practices where the abuser desensitizes their victim by assuming “caring” actions to pursue future abuses
- Insufficient platforms or opportunities to file a complaint
Sometimes, the identity of the perpetrator also plays a role. If they are a close family member, friend, relative or in a position of power, the abused becomes more disinclined to share details about the sexual maltreatment.
In Oregon, penalties may vary depending on the severity of the crime and the child’s age when the offense was committed. Any willful or malicious engagement in child sexual abuse is often punishable by hefty fines and imprisonment.
Healing may come full circle when sexual abuse survivors break their silence. In their own time, they can ask for support from a legal representative willing to fight aggressively for their rights and protection. It can be the realization that they do not have to be alone in giving justice to their stories.