DISCLOSURE 101: Be an Ear to Someone Who Discloses Abuse
Only a small fraction of abuses becomes disclosed, and an even smaller fraction becomes reported to authorities. Victims tend to keep their abusive experiences to themelves for a variety reasons that may include:
- The fear of being hurt further by the abuser
- The belief that the abuser may go to jail
- The fear that something will happen to him/her, such as removal from home
- The fear that other people in the family will blame them
- Loyalty to the caregiver and the family – no matter how bad the situation may be
- The fear that you may think that the abuse is deserved
Creative Education. (n.d.) Guidelines for Teachers Handling Disclosures of Child Abuse. Retrieved from http://www.creativeeducation.co.uk/blog/guidelines-for-teachers-handling-disclosures-of-child-abuse/
Disclosures are always half the fight, for all these reasons are perfectly valid and understandable. The mere act of deciding whether to disclose or not can already cause significant amount of distress. And so, when a victim finally becomes ready to disclose, it is important that we are versed with the right steps to employ, for a single mistake can shy the victim permanently away from disclosing his/her abuse.
Studies show that adolescents are more likely to disclose to their peers. So what do you do or NOT do when a friend, a family member, or anyone you know finally discloses abuse?
Your role to the victim is different from that of a parent, an authority, or a professional. Often, the reason the victim chose to disclose to you is to seek for emotional support and be heard. Listen by dropping anything else you are doing and by paying close attention to what the victim says. Remember, listening is a crucial way of showing your support and genuine concern for the victim.
Keep in mind that disclosures are half the fight and that the victim has already experienced significant distress prior to disclosing his/her experience.
- remember that your primary role is to LISTEN.
- assure the victim that
- They are not to blamed for their situation
- It is alright to feel whatever they do
- They did the right thing to tell you
- You believe in what they say
- It is OK for them to be disclosing to you
- commend the victim for their courage and strength.
- inform the victim what actions you will do next.
Victims of abuse often feel lack of control towards their own lives. Reminding them that is the proper measure to report to the authorities and informing them of every step they would take will help them feel empowered and back on their shoes.
1. ask for more information other than what the victim has disclosed.
Don’t interrogate the victim for he/she might shut down and refrain from disclosing altogether. Asking too many questions that may touch on details the victim may not want to reveal will only make it harder for him/her to disclose. Remember, it has already been a stressful experience for the victim to decide whether or not to speak out. Don’t rush the victim; let him/her set the pace of the conversation. Remember: it is your role to listen, not to investigate.
2. deny/undervalue the situation.
Avoid statements and comments like “Maybe you just misunderstood,” that may imply that you are doubting what the victim says.
3. make assumptions about the alleged perpetrator.
Avoid judgmental and negative remarks about the abuser. Doing so will only confirm one of the aforementioned reasons why victims are hesitant to disclose. The victim may still have positive feelings about the perpetrator especially if he/she is a family member or someone else close to the victim.
4. offer advice.
It is not your role to give advice of any sort.Giving advice sometimes tends to be disrespectful for doing so might imply that you think that the victim is incapable of deciding on his/her own. Listen more than you talk. As long as you listen supportively, then you would have already helped the victim.
5. handle the situation on your own.
Remember, it is not your role to investigate. Leave the situation to the authorities. Confronting the perpetrator on your own will only risk the victim’s and your safety. It is only your duty to give support to the victim.
Of all these reminders, the most important thing to keep in mind is to be there for the victim at all costs. Stay by their side and support wherever they decide to lead their disclosure next. What the victim needs at most is for someone to remind them that they are not any less of a being after experiencing abuse.