It is incredibly difficult for children who have been abused—sexually, physically, psychologically, or through neglect—to talk about it. But what makes the situation even worse is when those they tell don’t believe them.
In approximately 23 percent of child abuse cases, children recant allegations of abuse. Research has been conducted to better understand why they do this. The main reason? The nonoffending primary caregivers do not believe them. In a vast majority of the cases, the nonoffending caregiver is the mother.
Whether wishing to protect their children or help prevent further instances, mothers often instruct children to recant their stories. Nearly one quarter of all children who make allegations of abuse will take back or change their stories if their mothers don’t believe them, according to a study recently published by the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology entitled, “Children’s Recantation of Adult Wrongdoing: An Experimental Investigation.” Age also plays a factor, according to the study. The younger the child, the more likely the recantation.
In contrast, the study reports that of children who received support, none recanted, “implying that children are unlikely to make spontaneous recantations following supportive caregiver reactions – at least when it comes to minor acts of wrongdoing committed by adults.”
Research by Sanford Health in North Dakota backs this up: “Studies show that most children who recant are telling the truth when they originally disclose. Recantation is largely a result of familial adult influences rather than a result of false allegations.”
Children of abuse want to tell their story. According to Sanford Health, “48.3% of the children who recanted their statements of sexual abuse eventually reaffirmed at least some part of those statements.”
So whenever you encounter a child who may have experienced abuse, it is important to keep the following in mind:
- Believe the child’s story. The number of false accusations made by children is extremely low, so the likelihood is that the accusation is true.
- Make sure the child knows it wasn’t his fault. Abusers tend to put blame onto their victims, so reassure the child he is not to blame.
- Make sure the child is safe, then report the incident.
- Make sure the child has a wellness exam, if possible done by a Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) medical professional.
- Ensure that the child receives a professional follow-up visit with a victim’s advocate or therapist.
Mandated report of abuse in the United States varies from state to state, so be sure to check with your state’s laws and guidelines. I believe we all have a moral obligation to report both known and suspected abuse. By reporting abuse, we show children that they are valued and deemed worthy of protection and we help to make sure the abuse never happens again.