The definition of disclosure found on Google is “the action of making new or secret information known”.
If your child has been sexually violated, the word “disclosure” takes on a spin that places you in a club, with the new or secret information becoming a life-changing event, with a before and an after. Membership of this club entails professionals and parents describing a moment—we call it “a disclosure” or “the disclosure”. This is the moment when a child told an adult that someone has been sexualizing them.
My daughter was 9 years old when she was being molested by her step dad, my second husband. If my daughter were to tell her story, her moment of disclosure would be different to mine. I heard her on March 13th 2007, but her molestation had been going on for several months by then, as she had told me. She had yelled it, screamed it and stated several times:
“I’m not safe when you leave!”
But my brain could not and would not register what she was saying. I had worked hard to impart the value of feeling “safe” to my daughter and used the necessary words to instill body safety, for many years. Yet, when the time came to respond to those words, I missed the cue completely.
How is that possible?
Several things make this possible, but the biggest factor is the trust we give people. In plain and simple terms, Paul was a “good” man. I missed my child’s cue because when she said “I’m not safe,” my mind could not register anything in her world that was not safe. Even with one incident being very blatant, I could not see what was real, due to my sense of Paul’s “goodness”—an inherent characteristic of the pedophile.
More than a year after my daughter’s molester was jailed and the incident behind us, I found myself hungry for knowledge, desperate to understand what had happened and why. On several occasions, I went to talk to one of the professionals where our forensic interview had taken place.
The Child Advocacy Center defines a forensic interview as “a structured conversation with a child, intended to elicit detailed information about a possible event the child may have experienced or witnessed.”
During the course of my probative conversations, the professional and I discussed how children disclosed sexual abuse. This professional informed me of one young boy who was adamant that someone in his family was molesting him and also insistent that he had been telling his mom about the abuse. The boy’s mom could not think of any moment where her son had confided molestation to her. The professional explained:
“When the forensic examiners had him in for an interview, they asked him what words he had used to tell his mom about what was going on. He told them: “I tell my mom all the time that I don’t want to go to his house and that I don’t like him”. That’s it. For this young boy, those words were his disclosure.
A startling fact about child sexual abuse is that the most dangerous ages for a human being, sexually, are between the ages of 7 and 13. David Finkelhor, my daughter, and this little boy, struggled to fully explain their need for safety and this left them in vulnerable. Like me, this boy’s mother could not comprehend that a person in their family was sexualizing her child. The combination of a child’s inadequate vocabulary and the adult’s inability to see another person as a sexual threat to their child leaves countless children in danger and at risk of abuse every day.
To make new or secret information known is risky and scary, yet when it is put in vague terms like “I’m not safe” or “I don’t like him/her”, it scarcely looks like a great revelation.
My daughter finally got my attention by getting very descriptive with what was happening to her. She gave me action-by-action shots of what Paul had done to her. The words she linked together came out in an awkward flow, they were far beyond 9-year old’s knowledge of sex. It was a gripping moment for me and relieving for her. Some young victims confide in a friend or a school counselor, others hold their secret inside. I wonder if they had the right words, if they had direction in how to disclose if more children would come forward.
On that same visit, the forensic specialist also told me about one small girl who had disclosed her sexualization and worried she was pregnant. This child victim was too young to have periods, she had not seen her abuser in more than a year and by her description of what was done to her, pregnancy was not possible. But, in her child mind, something had been inserted into her and she was afraid a baby would come out. This little girl is not alone in her thinking. Not knowing what is happening to them, children create stories, even justifications for their abuse.
As a society, we must ask ourselves if we are giving parents and children enough information. How do you teach parents about the treachery of highly skilled pedophiles to lie and manipulate? How can society be taught that “good” people are sometimes sexually voracious in ways that defy bizarre?
According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 25% of girls and 16% of boys (conservatively) are sexually violated before reaching 18 years old. Despite the efforts of many, these numbers have remained the same for decades. There is a lot of work to be done in order to get the word “disclosure” into mainstream vocabulary.
Those of us directly affected by a pedophiles’ actions and behavior know that child sexual abuse is not openly discussed, but it is possible that we can change this habit by talking about our experiences. By making new and secret information widely known, we teach and educate. Disclosures educate, and when we are liberated from shame, we can tell our story without a tear, because it’s just our story. It is what it was. Shame and secrecy are tools of the guilty, they protect the abusers.
Confiding, telling, and disclosures come from people of every age. They are holding courage in their hearts so strongly that it moves them beyond the fear and shame. All disclosures hold the potential to free us from what was never ours to begin with.
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Advocate and Author
Annalise grew up in the Midwest but moved to Denver, Colorado more than 20 years ago. Her oldest child is 19, and she has a son in high school as well as two step daughters. Teaching her kids to cook is a family favorite! In her spare time, she enjoys reading, watching movies and connecting with friends and family.