The 3 Most Important Things To Say If A Child Discloses Abuse

By Ginger Kadlec — get free updates of new posts here.

person-845282_1280Finding the courage and strength to disclose abuse can be a tough thing for a child to do.

An estimated 73% of children don’t disclose abuse for at least one year. Another 45% don’t tell anyone they are being abused for five years… still others never tell.

A primary factor in children NOT disclosing abuse is that in the large majority of abuse and neglect cases, children know, love or trust the people hurting them. The child doesn’t want to get that person “in trouble” or may fear some type of retribution for “telling”. To learn more about why children suffer in silence, see “10 Reasons Children Don’t Disclose Abuse“.

If a child ever discloses abuse to you, here are the three most important things you can say:

#1: “I believe you.” 

These three simple words are a lifeline to a child. Many children are afraid they won’t be believed, often because their abusers have told them so. This is especially important for MOTHERS to know! Moms, please, please, please (… I beg of you!) always believe your child should s/he ever tell you s/he has been victimized, regardless of who the child alleges is the perpetrator. Children whose mothers do not believe their allegations will often recant and suffer in silence. In cases where abuse exists, it then continues leaving the child feeling unprotected and vulnerable with drastic lifelong implications.

One study showed that 52 percent of those who reported mistreatment to a parent were still being abused a year after the disclosure. ~Psychology Today

A 2012 article from Psychology Today states, “Some (abused children) who do reveal suffer negative consequences, such as being blamed for ‘seducing’ the perpetrator or being accused of lying. One study showed that 52 percent of those who reported mistreatment to a parent were still being abused a year after the disclosure.”

I simply can’t overemphasize the importance of mothers believing their children. The facts will come out in the end, but it is crucial that upon initial disclosure and until proven otherwise that we believe what our children tell us.

#2: “It’s not your fault.”

Abusers place a great amount of blame on their child victims, so children often feel they somehow “caused” their own abuse. They may also have been led to believe they will be in trouble because, again, they think the abuse was their fault. Taking the weight of blame off the child’s shoulders in one of the first steps in that child’s journey of healing.

#3. “You did the right thing.”

The child will likely question his/her decision to disclose, so your reassurance that s/he made the right decision is vital. Your next steps will prove to the child whether or not s/he made the right call in confiding in you. You must now take action and show that child s/he is worthy of protection. In fact, YOU may be the ONLY person that child tells… if you don’t act, that child’s trauma will continue. If a child discloses abuse to you, follow these 7 steps to ensure the child’s safety and support a proper investigation of the allegations.

About Ginger

Chance and GK 2013-04-26Raising awareness of the world-wide epidemic of child abuse has become Ginger’s life mission. An impassioned child advocate, trainer, speaker and trained child forensic interviewer, Ginger regularly blogs about child protection issues. Along with her husband John and pets Lexi and Chase, Ginger enjoys traveling, skiing, hiking, brisk mornings, colorful sunsets and just hangin’ at home with “the Pack”.


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6 thoughts on “The 3 Most Important Things To Say If A Child Discloses Abuse

  1. Dear New Friend in Safety,
    I will send you a book, you decide how many you will need after that for your group of teachers
    At Smart Steps.
    Melinda Tripp

    My book is a proactive approach to teaching kids awareness, and What to do, when they encounter bad behavior, stressing most people are good, with good behavior.
    I also wrote the first school curriculum for Abduction Prevention and Safety .
    I will send one autographed copy of the book, fr you, and you let me know, how many more you think you might need. Alright?

    1. Melinda,

      You are so very kind! Thank you! I’ll send you a separate email with details. Thank YOU!!!!


  2. Hi Ginger,
    Your work for children will surpass anything I was able to do.
    I would be pleased to send your instructors books, how many are there in your organization?
    I saw your address on your post would this be the correct address to send them to?
    Thank you for picking up the torch, I love your site and hope that my book would encourage more of your beautiful blogs!

    1. Melinda,

      You are sooooo kind! What a generous offer! Actually, it’s just me handling this on the back-end here at BeAKidsHero. The organization for whom I volunteer for Smart Steps is Chaucie’s Place Child Advocacy Center – they may be able to use a donation. Would you like me to check with them?

      Thanks again – you are too kind!


  3. Exactly,
    after every school assembly I asked if any child who wanted to ask a question or try a break away technique would line up, then let them come up privately one ny one, usually 10-50 kids….
    I have just told them that if they have the right to say No! To Bad Behavior, to Go and Tell, and most days at least one child needed to TELL!
    The principal then took the child into their care for first , listening, then reassuring that we believe them, and are prepared to help them immediately.
    Thank you for your blog Ginger.
    Please join my Facebook page, The Safety Lady. (My nickname at the schools in which I taught Safety and Abduction Prevention Education.)

    1. Hello, Melinda!

      Thank you for sharing and I just “liked” your Facebook page… looking forward to reading your posts. I volunteer as a Smart Steps instructor for Chaucie’s Place child advocacy center – they teach a body safety class to elementary schools in central Indiana (it’s a FABULOUS program!). As you do, we also give students an opportunity to talk with someone following the class. For 4th & 5th grade students (it’s typically offered to Kindergarten, 2nd and 4th in public schools & all grades (thru 5th, I think) in Catholic schools), we pass out a piece of paper that asks if they want to talk with someone, then someone from the center works with their school counselor to privately chat with each child who indicates “yes” to be sure they are safe. You are so right… there is always a child who wants (and needs) to talk — if abuse is disclosed or suspected, it is often followed by a child forensic interview.

      Thank YOU for the terrific work you are doing, Melinda, to help protect children!


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