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Ramona Alaggia Faculty of Social Work University of Toronto

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1 Ramona Alaggia Faculty of Social Work University of Toronto
Speaking the Unspeakable: How Family Dynamics Inhibit or Promote Disclosures of Child Sexual Abuse Ramona Alaggia Faculty of Social Work University of Toronto

2 Review of the Literature:
It is estimated that between 30% and 80% of victims do not purposefully disclose CSA before adulthood (Arata, 1998; Lawson & Chaffin, 1992; Paine & Hansen, 2001; Smith, Letourneau, Saunders, Kilpatrick, Resnick & Best, 2000). Studies which examine latency to disclosure report a mean delay from years (Lamb & Edgar-Smith, 1994; Oxman-Martinez, Rowe, Straka & Thobault, 1997). Age, gender, relationship to the perpetrator, and cultural issues may all play a part in disclosure or lack of it (Alaggia, 2001; Arata, 1998; Bradley & Wood, 1996; Fontes, 1993; Gartner, 1999; Nasjleti, 1980; Smith et al., 2000; Wyatt & Newcomb, 1990).

3 Review of the Literature (con’t):
Accidental disclosures account for a significant number of disclosures with younger children under the age of six being least likely to purposefully disclose. Developmental abilities and limitations are important underlying factors in why younger children rarely purposefully disclose (Campis, Hebden-Curtis & Demaso, 1993; Keary & Fitzpatrick, 1994; Nagel, Putnam, & Noll, 1996; Paine & Hansen, 2001; Roesler & Wind, 1994; Sorensen & Snow, 1991). Relationship to the perpetrator is another factor cited for why child victims do not disclose. The more closely related victims are to the perpetrator the less likely to they are to disclose childhood sexual abuse (Mian, Marton & LeBaron 1996; Wyatt & Newcomb 1990).

4 Review of the Literature (con’t):
Disclosure may be inhibited in cultures that hold taboos and negative attitudes about sexuality and that place a high premium on preservation of the family (Alaggia, 2001; Fontes,1993; Paine & Hansen, 2001). Cultural values regarding child rearing practices, and obeying of authority may prevent victims (and their families) from disclosing child sexual abuse. Structural factors such as discrimination, migration, and poverty have been identified as possibly preventing disclosing CSA (Fontes, 1993).

5 The Study: Objectives: To identify a range of factors, including family dynamics, which contribute to or hinder a child's ability to disclose sexual abuse. Method: Using the Long- Interview method narratives from male and female child sexual abuse (CSA) survivors about their disclosure experiences were elicited to explore dynamics that contribute to: 1) whether they disclosed during the time of the abuse; 2) whether they delayed disclosure and; 3) circumstances which led to disclosure. Data were collected through intensive interviewing using an interview guide developed from an extensive review of the literature undertaken by the author, together with input from Canadian experts in the field of child sexual abuse.

6 Sample: Purposive sampling was implemented to capture: 1) the experiences of both women and men and; 2) those who disclosed during the abuse and those who withheld. Recruitment occurred through community agencies, one university campus and through word of mouth (snowball sampling). At the time of the interviews the study participants reflected a mixed clinical and non-clinical sample although the majority had received treatment for their victimization at some point in their lives. Results: Themes that are emerging relate to specific family dynamics and suggest that disclosure of sexual abuse can be significantly compromised when any of the following conditions exist in the family: rigidly fixed, traditional gender roles; family violence; closed, indirect communication patterns; and social isolation.

7 Sample Description: Participants to date are twenty adult survivors
between the ages of 18 through 65 who were sexually abused by a family member. The average age of the participants was 40.1 years. All but one participant had been abused by a male family member. The vast majority of the male perpetrators were biological fathers, step-fathers, mother’s partners and grandfathers. One male survivor had been sexually abused by an older sister. Sixty percent (60%) of participants were female and 40% were male. The average age of onset of abuse was 6.7 years old. Forty four percent (44%) of the participants had disclosed the abuse during childhood and the remainder had not disclosed until adulthood. Thirty percent (30%) had not disclosed because they had repressed the memory, or the abuse had occurred in pre-school years and they had difficulty with recall.

8 Disclosure Inhibitors Disclosure Promoters
In families in which roles were cast according to gender stereotypes, and where patriarchal norms prevailed the family system appeared to be closed & boundaries rigidified. Family rules dictated that children where to “be seen, not heard” as stated by a number of study participants. Family violence was reported in the vast majority of respondent narratives. This dynamic was not talked about openly, therefore no other problems were presumed to be safe to speak about. A close relationship with the mother or relative seemed to prompt attempted disclosure. Families in which children were encouraged to talk about experiences and feelings contributed to disclosure.

9 Disclosure Inhibitors Disclosure Promoters
Families in which communication was closed and indirect inhibited disclosures. Unclear as to whether communication was solely affected by the secret of the abuse or other family characteristics Social isolation of the family as a whole, or specific members, played a part in CSA victims feeling they had no one safe to tell Unknown at this point in the study More participants who disclosed early are needed to reach saturation on family variables

10 rigidly fixed, traditional gender roles in the family
P2:When he would come home at nights 12:00 a.m. you know he’d expect my mother to get up and get him food and feed him. And you know if she didn’t then there would be the arguing and the fighting and you know. P15:My dad is very, (pause) he’s a control freak, you have dinner on the table when I say, don’t leave your stuff laying around, it’s okay (raised voice) for me to do it but you can’t Again the house had to be perfect it was bad and the house had to be spotless, you couldn’t leave your stuff lying around.

11 presence of family violence
P7: Oh yeah. He was abusive with me mostly, but with my mother yeah. Looking back now yeah he was very abusive with her. P14: My dad is I don’t know, goofy, (pause) if he did some of the things he said he was going to do then he would have killed us. But for whatever strange reason people stop before they kill somebody, that I don’t really know. He could beat you and beat you and beat you, or do mean crazy things, but I can’t answer why somebody stops before they finish it. You know what I am saying? P15: I never seen her being physically abused but definitely emotionally and verbally.

12 closed, indirect communication
P14: My mom, a problem comes along, avoid it, avoid, avoid, avoid, don’t talk she didn’t want to talk about the way life was at our place. P4: But there was no communication, there was no talking, there was none and then my mother left us.

13 Social isolation P6: Yeah and even the friends that I did have I couldn’t bring them over because I didn’t know what kind of mood or what my father would say. P4: And she said I’m not allowed to talk to you any more. My mother said your family’s not nice. So I remember walking home and then after that I didn’t make any attempts to make friends. P15: I know in high school the teachers just used to think of me as a loner and quiet and shy and just leave me alone.

14 Conclusions Survivors who did not disclose until adulthood consistently described family rules in which father was the “head of the household”, mothers were disempowered and children “were to be seen but not heard” In terms of family dynamics the presence of family violence and other forms of child abuse may prevent children from disclosing child sexual abuse simply because they learned early on that so many things about the family were not to be talked about In terms of family communication survivors consistently described an atmosphere of closed communication. It is unclear whether this was a pre-existing condition in the family or a function of the “secret” of sexual abuse Many as children were socially isolated as individuals and their families did not “fit in” therefore they had no-one to talk to

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