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Tipping the Balance

Tipping the Balance to Tell the Secret

The Public Discovery of Child Sexual Abuse


Child Witness Project (1995)
This study examined over 500 cases of child sexual abuse to investigate the process of how the abuse was discovered by adults and reported to police. The report includes a literature review and a qualitative analysis of interviews with 135 children and teenagers: who told right away and why, who delayed telling, what happened to them, why didn't they tell, and how was the abuse finally discovered? We also asked the children about the role of school programs in their decisions to disclose or not disclose. A statistical model was developed to discriminate immediate disclosers from delayed disclosers. For example, children at risk for on-going abuse included those who experienced pre-abuse grooming, had been young at the time of first sexual contact and who were abused in their homes by someone they lived with and to whom they were emotionally close. The children offered nine recommendations to schools to improve their sexual abuse prevention programs. On the basis of study findings, the research team offered eight observations about the weaknesss of programs and recommend modifications to increase their effectiveness at encouraging disclosures from children.

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Tipping the Balance to Tell the Secret: The Public Discovery of Child Sexual Abuse

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction

  • The Child Witness Project

    • Origins of the Project

    • Evaluation Study

    • Follow-up Study

  • Rationale for the Present Study

  • Literature Review

    • Disclosure

      • Why is the Act of Disclosure so Important?

      • What are the Types of Disclosure, Facilitators and Inhibitors?

      • Why Don't Children Disclose Immediately

    • Parental Reaction to Disclosures of Sexual Abuse

      • What Determines Whether a Mother will be Supportive After a Disclosure?

      • What Circumstances Lead to Maternal Rejection and Denied Support?

    • Prevention

      • Methodological Problems with Evaluations of Prevention Programs

      • How Effective are Prevention Programs?

    • Summary

2. Overview of the Findings

  • Methodology and Conceptualization of the Disclosure Process

  • Who Were These Children?

  • Who Were the Abusers?

  • How Did They Know the Children?

  • How Did the Child React to the First Sexual Contact?

  • Who Told Right Away?

  • Why Did They Tell Right Away?

  • What Happened to Those Who Did Not Tell Right Away?

  • Who Experienced On-Going Abuse?

  • Who Waited the Longest to Tell?

  • Why Did They Not Tell?

  • How Was the Abuse Finally Discovered?

  • Did The School Programs Help?

  • What Happened After the Disclosure?

  • What Happened in Court?

  • How Did They Feel About Court?

  • How do They Feel About it All Today?

  • Tipping the Balance to Tell the Secret

3. Methodology

  • The Sample

    • Sample Bias

      • Children's Aid Study

      • Uniform Crime Reporting Data

      • Ontario Crown Survey

      • External Validity

  • Descriptive Study of Child Disclosures

    • Data Sources

      • Police Data

      • Intake Procedure

      • Clinical Interviews

      • Third-Party Reports

      • Psychological Testing

      • Victim/Witness Assistance Programme

      • Court Observation

      • File Review

      • Post-Court Child Interviews

      • Follow-up Interviews with Parents

      • Post-Court Parent Survey

    • Breakdown of Primary Data Sources

  • Interview Study

    • Exclusionary Criteria for Interviews

    • Securing Participation

    • Content of the Interview

    • Parent Interview/Surveys

    • Response Rate for Child Interviews

      • Characteristics of Children who were Interviewed

      • Response Biases

  • Prediction Model

  • Assumptions Underpinning the Research

  • Chapter Summary

4. The Children Before the Onset of Abuse

  • Demographic and Social History Characteristics

    • Demographic Characteristics

    • Family Composition and Primary Caregivers

    • Family Characteristics

      • Out-of-Home Placements

    • Agency Involvement

    • History of Victimization

      • Response to Prior Sexual Abuse

      • Experience of Children as Court Witnesses

      • Maternal History of Childhood Sexual Abuse

      • Schooling

      • Behavioural and Academic Problems

    • Relationship of Demographic/Family Factors to Age at Onset of Abuse

  • Chapter Summary

5. Relationship Between Abuser and Child

  • Pre-Abuse Relationship with Abuser

    • Abuser's Relationship to Child

    • Social and Familial Proximity

      • Length of Acquaintance

      • Social Proximity

      • Family Connection

      • Emotional Closeness

    • Abuser's Relationship to Child's Mother

      • Violence in the Relationship Between Mother and Abuser

      • History of Abuser's Sexual Victimization of Mother

      • Abusers Not Known by Mothers

    • Children's Descriptions of Pre-Abuse Relationship with Abuser

    • Pre-Abuse Grooming

    • Abuser/Child Characteristics Associated with Early Onset of Abuse

  • Chapter Summary

6. Child Reaction to the First Sexual Contact

  • Children's Recollections of First Sexual Contacts

    • Thoughts of Disclosing After First Sexual Contact

    • Recognition that Acts were Wrong

    • Abuser Admonishments Not to Tell

      • Absence of Admonishment Not to Tell

    • Children's Recollections of Immediate Disclosures

    • Children's Explanations for Their Immediate Disclosures

    • Fear of Subsequent Abuse

    • Anticipation of Disbelief

    • Immediate Dead-End Disclosures

      • Disbelief After Immediate Disclosures

    • Disclosure-Associated Emotions

    • Attitudes to Criminal Justice System

      • Prior Knowledge of the Experience of Other Child Victims

      • Prior Experiences with Police Officers

      • Attitudes Toward the Police

      • Prior Experience as a Victim

      • Attitudes to the Children's Aid Society

    • Anticipation of Police Involvement

    • Parental Explanations of Immediate Disclosures

  • Chapter Summary

7. Immediate Discovery of One Sexual Incident

  • Abuser/Child Relationship

  • Abuse Characteristics in the Cases of Immediate Disclosers

    • Location

    • Securing Compliance with Abuse

    • Injury

    • Means of Securing Silence

    • Distinguishing Immediate Disclosers by Abuse Characteristics

  • The Context of Immediate Discoveries of One Sexual Act

    • Motivations/Intentions

    • Other Victims

    • Disclosure Recipients in the Disclosure Sequence

      • First Adult in Disclosure Sequence

      • Role of Parents in Immediate Disclosures

    • Witnessed Events

    • Response to Immediate Disclosures

  • Immediate Dead-End Disclosures

    • Immediate Dead-End Disclosures Prior to Other Immediate Disclosures

    • Immediate Dead-End Disclosures by Delayed Disclosers

  • Chapter Summary

8. Pre-disclosure Period for Delayed Disclosers

  • Who Were the Delayed Disclosers and What Happened to Them?

    • Abuser/Child Relationship

    • Abuse Characteristics

      • Location

      • Securing Compliance with Abuse

      • Injury

      • Means of Securing Silence

    • Termination of Abuse After One Incident

      • Reasons for no Subsequent Abuse

    • Self-Report of Emotional Consequences

  • Children's Reasons for Not Disclosing

    • Children's Reasons for Not Telling Sooner

    • Worst Fear of Disclosing

    • Frequency of Disclosure Fears

    • Self-Blame

      • Felt Somewhat or Partially Responsible

      • Felt Responsible for Putting Self in Dangerous Situation

      • Felt Equally Responsible as Abuser

      • Felt More Responsible than Abuser

      • Role of School Programs in Self-Blame

    • Best Daydreams of What Would Happen After Disclosure

    • Conflicted Feelings About Abuser

      • Abusers' Explanations for Their Actions

      • Children's Explanations for Abusers' Actions

  • Dead-End and Veiled Disclosures

    • Dead-End Disclosures

      • Dead-End Disclosures to a Parent

      • Abuse After Dead-End Disclosures

    • Veiled Indications to Parents

      • Trial Balloon Disclosures

      • Clues and Hints

    • Confronted Denials

  • Chapter Summary

9. Discovery of Abuse After Delay

  • Circumstances of Disclosure

    • Context of Discovery of Abuse

    • Disclosure Recipients

    • Role of Parents in Disclosure

  • Children's Recollections of Disclosure After Delay

    • Motivation for Disclosure

    • Choice of Disclosure Recipient

      • Reason for Telling Person Other Than Parent

    • Incremental and Incomplete Disclosures to the Police

  • Chapter Summary

10. Prediction of Disclosure Patterns

  • Discriminating Immediate Disclosers From the Others

    • Child-Related Variables

    • Abuser/Child Variables

    • Abuse Characteristics

    • Combining Variables to Predict Immediate Disclosure

  • Predicting Non-Disclosure After One Year

    • Child-Related Variables

    • Abuser/Child Variables

    • Abuse Characteristics

    • Combining Variables to Predict Disclosure Within One Year

  • Predicting Risk for On-Going Abuse

    • Child-Related Variables

    • Abuser/Child Variables

    • Abuse Characteristics

    • Combining Variables to Predict On-Going Abuse

  • Proposing a Theoretical Model for Delay in Disclosure

    • Tipping the Balance

      • Individual Child Characteristics

      • The Family Context

      • Child's Age

      • Subtle versus Forceful Means to Gain Compliance

      • Chance Situational Circumstances

      • Abuser/Child Relationship

      • Changes Over Time

11. The Role of School Programs in Disclosure

  • The Role of Schools in Disclosures

    • Educators in Disclosure Sequence

    • Variable Role of Schools in Disclosures

    • Children's Comments on Pre-Disclosure Role of Schools

    • Did You Ever Think of Telling a Teacher?

      • Disclosures to Teachers

    • Could Your Teacher Have Known What Was Happening?

    • Children's Comments on School-Based Prevention Programs

    • Exposure to School-Based Prevention Programs Before the First Incident

    • Role of School Programs in Disclosures

      • Effectiveness of the Programs

    • Retroactive Impact of Programs on Pre-Disclosers

    • Use of Kids Help Phone Line

    • Role of Teachers and Schools After Disclosure of Schools in Student-to-Student Assaults

  • Children's Recommendations to Improve School Programs

12. Conclusions

  • Recommendations for Prevention

    • Assessments of Weaknesses of Current Programs

    • Assessments of the Benefits of Current Programs

    • Suggestions for Programming

    • Directions for Future Research

    • Implications for Criminal Justice System


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