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J Child Sex Abus. 2003;12(1):89-121.

Social reactions to child sexual abuse disclosures: a critical review.

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Department of Criminal Justice, University of Illinois at Chicago, 1007 West Harrison Street, Chicago, IL, 60607-7140, United States.


Recent studies have examined disclosure of child sexual abuse to determine the correlates and consequences of telling others about this form of victimization. The present article reviews the current empirical literature on disclosure and reactions to adult survivors to assess what is known about the process of disclosure and whether telling others is therapeutic and leads to positive outcomes. Most studies assessing social reactions in detail have concerned adult survivors retrospectively reporting on their disclosures of child sexual abuse. Few empirical studies have been conducted in this area but research suggests that few victims tell anyone about child sexual abuse as children, and that the type of reactions to disclosure vary according to when disclosure occurs (childhood or adulthood), the extent and nature of the disclosure, and the person to whom one discloses. Clear evidence shows that negative social reactions are harmful to survivors' well-being, but better assessment of specific reactions and their effects are needed in theoretically-based studies to evaluate how these responses affect survivors' recovery in the context of other variables. Suggestions for future research on social reactions of others to adult survivors disclosing child sexual abuse are presented.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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