The Cost of Disclosure by Victims of Sexual Abuse: Clinical and Cultural Perspectives

Eldra P. Solomon, Center for Mental Health Education,
Kathleen M. Heide, University of South Florida
Toni P. Steed, University of South Florida

Many women in the mental health and criminal justice systems have been targets of violence, often of incest and other forms of childhood sexual abuse. Many sequelae of childhood maltreatment have been documented including high risk for continued victimization, substance abuse, and inability to develop and sustain healthy relationships. The authors explore three areas that have not been extensively studied: (1) attempts to disclose abuse during childhood and adolescence; (2) the cost of disclosure by survivors of child sexual abuse in adulthood; and (3) the role that our culture/society has in maintaining secrecy regarding sexual abuse and other forms of violence against women. The authors discuss clinical and self-report data indicating that women with histories of sexual abuse typically attempted to seek help by disclosing the abuse. In doing so, they broke the rule of silence that protects family secrets. Their experience suggests that our culture protects family secrets, and that family secrets may reflect cultural secrets. The authors explore the role of this cultural support of violence against children and women and its impact on victims and survivors. They discuss measures for changing the current cultural/societal support for secrecy which allows violence against children and women.

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Updated 05/20/2006