How come an adult won’t report that she was sexually abused as a child?

Dear Stop It Now!,

My girlfriend told me that when she was 11 years old, her uncle abused her sexually. She's 25 now. She never told her parents or anyone about this even though it happened for over 3 years. She still doesn’t want to say anything because she doesn’t want to upset her parents and she feels ashamed that she didn't tell. I think she should tell her parents and the authorities what happened. Maybe the guy is still abusing other children. Why doesn’t she want to report it?

Dear Concerned Friend,

It is so hard to hear that someone we care about was a child who was sexually abused. It is also difficult to understand someone else’s decision to not report being sexually abused. 

Disclosure is very difficult and complicated

Your girlfriend’s choice is understandable.  Disclosing this to you was probably a huge step for her. There are many reasons why people choose not to disclose or report. It is important that her right to decide if and when she discloses to others is respected. It may help you to understand your girlfriend's experience more; you may want to read our information on why children don't tell about abuse.

Professional support and help

It may be helpful for her to talk to a counselor, who can help her decide how she wants to handle the impact of abuse in her life - now as an adult. If she has never talked to anyone about what has happened, she is probably filled with many emotions including fear, shame, guilt, grief, anger – all horribly uncomfortable.

Counseling with a therapist who is practiced and knowledgeable in working with adults who have experienced and survived child sexual abuse is available. Specialized counseling may be able to help her look at what happened to her from her new eyes of an adult who is able to be empowered and make decisions about what she wants to share and what she doesn’t want to. If your girlfriend is interested in counseling, I recommend she start with reading about healing and recovery for adults abused as children from our Online Help Center. There she'll also find some resources for counseling.

She must feel safe and comfortable with you since she told you about the sexual abuse in her childhood. And your concern for other children being at risk is commendable. As you sound like an adult who believes in taking action to help prevent child sexual abuse, I want to invite you to explore our website, particularly paying attention to our information on community outreach. Your desire to see steps being taken to stop child sexual abuse is where prevention begins.

Take care,
Stop It Now!

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Last edited on: July 11th, 2012