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Saturday, January 4, 2014

Why disclose abuse?

Child protection workers are often faced with the dilemma of abuse cases where the child simply won't confirm that the abuse took place. Part of the reason can lie in the way in which the child is asked. In an article by Reder and Duncan (2004) in the UK, they note that CPS workers are often not properly trained in how to actually talk with and interview a child. This may partially explain why some of the really high profile cases of child protection failures have included a failure to see and/or interview the child.

Yet, there is more to it. In a rather interesting article soon to be published in the journal Child Abuse and Neglect Israeli authors Katz & Barnetz remind us of some very important issues but place a new light upon them. Those children who are the recipients of physical abuse seem to less likely to dispose as the are so reliant on the parent for the essentials of life. More resistance may be encountered as the child ages. What I found rather disturbing in the research, is the ways in which some victims of physical abuse incorporate the abuse into their life - accommodating it and taking ownership of it.  They gave as examples:

“Daddy was yelling on me because I didn’t do my homework, so I told him I am sorry you are right and brought himhis belt.”

“I knew that after he is drinking he will be looking for me, so I went there and set next to him. . .after he finishedhitting me I took him to his room so he will rest a bit.”

One can hardly see a child who has so accommodated the abuse into their living reality being easily open to disclosing the abuse. As the authors go on to state:

These narratives stress the unbearable situation for the children: they know when the abuse will take place, by whom,and how, and they have no real power to end it or to prevent it from occurring. In other words, they expect their fate andlive with/near this tragedy  

They also found that when a child is being sexually abused by a parent, the child will have a greater tendency to accommodate the abuse. This seems to be particularly true when the sexual abuse is of higher severity. Lower levels may see more fight or flight behaviours.

Thus, when a child is going to be interviewed about abuse, it is vital to understand that the child may well be accommodating the abuse as they do not feel a power to do otherwise. This can have profound implications for interviewing the child. It also strongly re-enforces that the interview should be done by someone who is skilled in the task. Poorly done, one can easily imagine how that child will lose faith in the potential value of disclosing.

It would require a great deal of effort for a child to disclose when they have accommodated the abuse into their reality. They may not believe that it can be otherwise and would see no reason to try and create change given that.

Katz, C., & Barnetz, Z. The behavior patterns of abused children as described in their testimonies. Child Abuse & Neglect (2013), 

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