Family Violence and the Reluctance to Speak Up
Ages 16-18

MysteryQuest 1
Support Materials 1 (Briefing Sheet)

The Reluctance to Report Child Abuse

Adapted from “How widespread is child abuse in Canada?”

It is difficult to obtain a complete picture of child abuse in Canada because it often remains hidden. Most provinces and territories legally require professionals and members of the public who suspect the maltreatment of a child to make a report to the appropriate authority. Yet many cases of child abuse remain undisclosed, either because a child does not or cannot tell anyone what has happened, or because others who know of or suspect abuse choose not to report it.

Reasons why an abused person may not report
A child may endure abuse for a long time before telling anyone what is happening. Some victims never tell anyone about their experiences. There are many reasons why a child who is or has been abused may not report it:

  • Threats: Abusers may manipulate, bribe, coerce, or threaten children to prevent them from telling anyone about the abuse.
  • Inability: Abused children may not be able to communicate what has happened because of their young age or other difficulties.
  • Fear of dismissal: Abused individuals may fear they will not be believed.
  • Guilt: Young children may be convinced that the abuse is their own fault and that they will be punished if the information gets out.
  • Personal loss: Children may fear that they or the abuser will be removed from the home or suffer other consequences.
  • Shame: Abused individuals may feel ashamed and want to keep the abuse (and related family problems) a secret to avoid being publicly embarrassed.
  • Power imbalance: Children may be reluctant to inform on someone they depend on or who has power over them.

Reasons why others may not report
Many children have experienced abuse while living in special needs institutions, child welfare facilities, youth detention facilities, and residential schools for Aboriginal children. Often, in these cases, many adults and other children know of or suspect that abuse has occurred.

There are many reasons why these individuals may not report suspected abuse:

  • Avoid involvement: They want to avoid getting involved in a difficult situation.
  • Condone punishment: They may believe that severe physical punishment of children is acceptable.
  • Not serious: They believe the abuse is not that serious.
  • Make matters worse: They may believe that reporting would not be in the child’s best interest—fearing it may cause more harm than it would solve.
  • Wouldn’t stop abuse: They may believe reporting would not stop the abuse.
  • Personal safety: They may fear for their own safety—that they may also be harmed by the abuser.
  • Family matter: They may be reluctant to intervene in what they see to be the private affairs of a family.
  • Self doubt: They may doubt their suspicions because they lack knowledge of the signs of abuse.
  • Ignorant of responsibility: They do not realize they have a responsibility to report abuse.
  • Ignorant of procedure: They may not know how to report suspected abuse.
  • Official indifference: They may be reluctant to report abuse because the authorities may be unlikely to take the accusation seriously.