When a Child Tells About Sexual Abuse

It is very hard to predict how the person who has abused will respond. Once the adult or youth who has been harmful is aware that this behavior has been exposed, they may experience a number of different reactions. These reactions can range from fear and remorse to outright denial. It usually important to consider the response of this individual as he/she is likely to be someone whom the victimized child (and his/her parents) knows and trusts.

How someone who has sexually abused a child might respond to a disclosure

Shame & Remorse

  • Shame or fear about the disapproval others might have for them.
  • Feelings of self-hatred or wanting to harm oneself, runaway, or “walk out”.
  • Recognition of the harm they have done -- remorse.
  • The desire to promise that the behavior will never happen again, with varying abilities to keep this promise.
  • If this has happened before, intense frustration that they were unable to control their behaviors once again.


  • Inability to take full responsibility for the abuse, and instead blames circumstances or other people.
  • Attempts to justify or minimize the harm they have caused.
  • Anger or resentment towards the victimized child for betraying their trust.


  • If they are a child, fear of being taken from their home or losing the relationship with the child who has been harmed.
  • If they are an adult, the fear of loss of relationship with the child and his/her family.
  • Fear of legal consequences for their behaviors.


  • Relief that the burden of harboring these secret thoughts and feelings has been lifted.
  • Desire to get help for a problem they have hidden and struggled with for awhile.
  • Relief that the abusing will finally stop.
Learn More
Our Resources

Helpful Organizations
Organization: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1.800.273.TALK )


If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide or in mental health crisis, call this number 24/7. Spanish available.

Organization: National Center on Sexual Behavior of Youth


FAQ’s and publications about youth with sexual behavior problems, offending youth, and healthy sexual development


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