The mother's awareness
is a key issue in the discussion of finding out
about sexual abuse. How she perceives the child's behavioral signals
and "clues" relates to a number of historical and internal factors such as:
- Was the mother sexually abused?
- How much knowledge does she have about warning signs of sexual abuse?
- Who is the perpetrator?
- If it is a family member, has she had any reason to think that abuse is a possibility?
- Is she aware that the perpetrator has been sexually abused?
- Have there been other incidents of concerning behavior, such as affairs?
- If the perpetrator is a family member, was she previously aware of a sexual addiction, such as pornogrphy, compulsive masturbation, promiscuity, sex with prostitutes?
- What is the mother's value system regarding loyalty?
Almost all non-physical warning signs of sexual abuse could have an alternate explanation. Mothers fear that they may be over-reacting. Without clear disclosure from the child, the mother's suspicions will result in ongoing internal conflict. Asking a child directly is something many mothers are not comfortable doing. Asking indirectly may not elicit a clear response from the child.
The discovery of child sexual abuse may occur at a certain point or it may take years. Mothers may notice something wrong, have suspicions, and try to confirm those suspicions over a period of years. Mothers may not know for a period of time, then suspect for a period of time, then know about the abuse but not know what to do.
Once disclosure has occurred, mothers look back at the signs and clues and feel guilty that they did not realize that abuse was occurring. The more knowledge and information that mothers had prior to the disclosure about sexual abuse and its warning signs, the more guilty they may feel about not "knowing" prior to that point.
No specific time frame or pattern exists in the finding out process. Mothers bring their own histories. Families bring their own histories. If the perpetrator is a family member, father, grandfather, brother, cousin, complicating factors interface with the disclosure. Extended family members may lobby for continued secrecy or against reporting to authorities that abuse has occurred.
A subsequent point in the process of disclosure is reporting the abuse to authorities. This is not the end point because discovery and disclosure continue. It is to be expected that, without a great deal of support and protection, children recant. They disclose and then take the disclosure back. The abuse may be reported but the child denies that abuse has occurred when questioned by social services, law enforcement, or abuse assessment interviewer.