No one noticed, no one heard A study of disclosures of childhood abuse

Close up of boy outside houseThis report describes the childhood experiences of abuse of young men and women and how they disclosed this abuse and sought help.

Researchers interviewed 60 young adults (aged 18-24 years) who had experienced high levels of different types of abuse and violence during childhood. The young adults were asked whether they had tried to tell anyone about what was happening to them, and what had happened as a result of their disclosures. Although much research suggests that few children disclose sexual abuse, in this study over 80% had tried to tell someone about the abuse.

Authors: Debbie Allnock and Pam Miller
Published: 2013

  • Over 80% of the children tried to tell someone about the abuse.
  • On average, it took 7 years for the young people to disclose sexual abuse. The younger the child was when the sexual abuse started, the longer it took for them to disclose.
  • There are a number of different ways that a child may try to let someone know what is happening to them. Disclosure – especially at the time of abuse – is rarely a straightforward process of just saying they have been abused.
  • Many disclosures were either not recognised or understood, or they were dismissed, played down or ignored; this meant that no action was taken to protect or support the young person.
  • The young people disclosed for a variety of reasons including: not being able to cope with the abuse any longer; abuse getting worse; wanting to protect others from abuse; or seeking justice.
  • Reasons for not disclosing included: having no one to turn to; not understanding they were being abused; being ashamed or embarrassed; being afraid of the consequences of speaking out.
  • Disclosing abuse is a difficult journey and 90% of the young people had had negative experiences at some point, mostly where the people they told had responded poorly.
  • Positive experiences of disclosures were when: the child was believed, some action was taken to protect the child, and emotional support was provided.
  • The young people said they wanted: someone to notice that something was wrong; they wanted to be asked direct questions; they wanted professionals to investigate sensitively but thoroughly; and they wanted to be kept informed about what was happening.
Executive summary 6
Chapter 1: Introduction 8
Chapter 2: The young people 13
Chapter 3: Disclosing abuse 16
Chapter 4: Missed opportunities for intervention 48
Chapter 5: The disclosure journey 52
Chapter 6: Conclusion 55

Please cite as: Allnock, D. and Miller, P. (2013) No one noticed, no one heard: a study of disclosures of childhood abuse. London: NSPCC.

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