Abuse Disclosure: What Adults Can Tell


Forthcoming in Bottoms, B.L., Goodman, G.S., & Najdowski, C.J. (eds.), Child Victims, Child Offenders: Psychology and Law (New York: Guilford). This paper can be downloaded at http://works.bepress.com/thomaslyon/57/


This book chapter reviews 14 retrospective surveys inquiring into respondent’s child abuse experiences and whether they ever disclosed abuse as children. I discuss the advantages of retrospective surveys (representativeness, reduced likelihood of false allegations, reduced suspicion bias). However, I also emphasize the likelihood of survey reluctance, and explain how this biases upwards estimates of abuse victims’ prior disclosure. If respondents who previously disclosed abuse are more likely to acknowledge abuse to a surveyor than respondents who never previously disclosed abuse, respondents who acknowledge abuse are disproportionately likely to be those who have previously disclosed. Difficulties notwithstanding, the research supports the proposition that most sexual abuse is not disclosed during childhood, and that, indeed, disclosure is difficult even for older respondents, particularly so in cases of intrafamilial abuse.


Criminal Law | Criminal Procedure | Evidence | Family Law | Juvenile Law | Law and Psychology

Date of this Version

May 2009

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