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Child Sexual Abuse: How Young People Tell


McElvaney, Rosaleen;

Institution: Dublin Institute of Technology
Subject Keywords: child sexual abuse; disclosure; adolescents; school; Developmental Psychology; Social Psychology;

This paper explores the theme of disclosing sexual abuse experiences in adolescence. As children develop increasing autonomy and independence they also develop cognitive, social and emotional skills which facilitate the process of disclosing personal experiences they have struggled for in some cases many years to maintain secrecy. Decision making skills which enable the young person to consider alternative consequences to their behaviour, multiple outcomes and an appreciation of the diverse perspectives of others enables them to weigh up the relative advantages and disadvantages of disclosure. Increased empathy enables them to appreciate the vulnerability of other children to abuse yet also sensitises them to the distress inevitably caused when loved ones discover that the abuse has occurred. Emotional self-regulation is needed to contain the ‘pressure cooker’ of conflicting emotions which young people describe in struggling with protecting and seeking help. As young people turn toward their peers as sources of support and confidantes, it is crucial that they are met with appropriate information and guidance. It is suggested that the positive impact of peer relationships on young people’s development can perhaps be harnessed by ensuring that young people can respond appropriately to disclosures of sexual abuse.



Suggested citation:

McElvaney, Rosaleen; . () Child Sexual Abuse: How Young People Tell [Online]. Available from: [Accessed: 21st September 2019].


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