Why Reports of Sex Abuse Are Often Delayed

New York Times [New York NY]

March 23, 2023

By David Clohessy

To the Editor:

Re “Sex Abuse Accusation Names a Rowing Legend” (front page, March 20):

In this article about childhood sexual abuse, The Times correctly noted that “victims may not report their abuse because of denial, shame or fear that they won’t be believed.”

There’s another, often overlooked factor that helps explain delayed abuse reports. Many survivors don’t deny their victimization — they simply don’t understand, until years later, that what happened to them was abuse.

Often, a child gets inadequate attention at home and believes that abuse is abrupt and brutal. Along comes a shrewd predator who convinces her that gentle touches are genuine affection. Her ignorance and innocence cause her to confuse being abused with being loved.

So it’s not only true that most victims don’t come forward promptly, but also the case that they may not recognize what occurred as abuse.

David G. Clohessy
St. Louis
The writer is the former national director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.