Why Children Find It Hard to Talk About Abuse

According to former South African President Nelson Mandela, child abuse is one of the most abhorrent acts that exist. Without a doubt, victims experience negative consequences that can often change the course of their lives.
Why Children Find It Hard to Talk About Abuse
Gorka Jiménez Pajares

Written and verified by the psychologist Gorka Jiménez Pajares.

Last update: 18 March, 2023

Nelson Mandela said that “abuse against children remains in their bodies and in their souls forever”. Indeed, abusing a child is an abominable act. Moreover, their fragility after the trauma means they find it difficult to talk about the abuse.

In the case of sexual abuse, it usually goes hand in hand with coercion. For instance, the pedophile often uses vile methods, such as bribery or intimidation. This means the child’s mind is affected by the toxicity of the trauma and will potentially rob them of their innocence.

“Child sexual abuse is such a devastating and traumatic experience that it can change the course of a person’s life.”

-Rosenna Bakari-

Lost childhood

There are various consequences of child abuse. That said, there are usually common patterns that help establish the facts. Anger or sadness are part of this common denominator. The child also prematurely abandons their childhood and, with it, their innocence and associated trust.

Furthermore, their self-esteem tends to suffer, as they feel guilty and deeply ashamed. The abuse makes them ask themselves questions like: “Why didn’t I stop it?”, “Why me?”. They invariably come back with the answer that they’re weak, less capable, or even bad.

Moreover, the aversive emotional intensity of the experience often blocks their recollection of the trauma in their memory. It’s as if it were locked in their minds behind a door for which there are few keys. As a consequence of this denial, they experience difficulties in concentrating, and their school performance declines. They may even experience dissociative episodes and ‘disconnect’ from the world, as it doesn’t provide them with the security they need.

In addition, various investigations have shown that both sexual abuse and its consequences can be inherited. For example, if a child learns that it’s ‘normal’ to be abused (because it’s become a way of life for them), they’ll probably develop an insecure attachment style. As a result, they commonly demonstrate self-destructive behaviors.

“The effects of child sexual abuse are not limited only to the victim, but also affect the family, the community and society in general.”

-Jody Raphael-

Girl alone in a room looking out the window
Child sexual abuse causes the victim to lose trust in adults.

Children find it hard to talk about abuse because they’ve lost hope

The abused child’s trust in adults is like a vase that’s been thrown violently against the wall. It’s shattered. It reaches its highest level when the perpetrator of the act is a parent, a brother, a friend, or someone they know.

If a child can’t trust those close to them, they grow up feeding the dangerous belief that they can’t trust anyone. Moreover, as they believe they can’t trust anyone, how can they talk to anyone about the abuse?

It’s also common for the abuser to try and silence the child. To do this, they use threats and lies, as well as violence. By silencing them, they mute their ability to ask for help. Furthermore, they deprive them of the opportunity of a promising path into the future.

“For boy and girl victims of sexual abuse, it is very difficult to trust adults and tell them what is happening to them.”

-General Council of Spanish Psychology-

Pedophile entering his victim's room
When the abuser belongs to the child’s environment, the consequences of the crime worsen.

Lips sealed, but minds burning with pain

In the emotional universe of the child, keeping quiet is far from being okay. They’re either silent because they’re ashamed or because they want to forget. Or, because they’re exceptionally confused, or have normalized the abuse.

It could even be that they’re silent because their linguistic competence has been disrupted and it’s one more symptom or sequel of the trauma. Indeed, many fears, worries, and concerns lie behind this kind of mutism. For example:

  • They may panic about the abuser’s reaction if they tell someone. This could be because the abuser has threatened them. For example, told them that they’d kill their brother if they said anything.
  • They think that the people around them will accuse them of lying. This belief, combined with intense guilt and shame, is a powerful element that inhibits them from telling anyone about the trauma.
  • They’re afraid that if they tell those close to them, they’ll stop loving them. In fact, these types of feelings are common after adult rape. Unsurprisingly, in the child population, this belief can reach higher levels.
  • They believe that nothing will happen if they do tell. In effect, although they may value talking about the abuse, they dismiss the option of doing so because they feel it’ll be useless.
  • They may believe that the fact that they’re being abused means someone will notice and ‘save’ them. However, when salvation doesn’t occur, they feel even more hopeless. These feelings feed back into the severity of the trauma.

The scars of abuse

As you can see, child abuse scars the future of sufferers. This can be on both a psychological and physical level. In the case of sexual abuse, for example, there are numerous cases of sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV, the virus responsible for AIDS. For this reason, it’s essential to be aware of any rare behaviors or opportunistic infections in minors, so that we can have a chance of saving them from the horrors of abuse.

“When one day the ignorance arising from childhood repression is eliminated and humanity has awakened, an end can be put to this production of evil.”

-Alice Miller-

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.