October 31, 2016 – Obstacles to Disclosure

Teresa HuizarGood morning and happy Monday.  I hope this finds everyone well.  This morning, I want to focus once again on the process of disclosure. As you know only too well, our systems—response, investigatory, treatment, etc.—are, for the most part, reactive in nature. They are triggered by a disclosure, and spring into action once that disclosure is made.  So the process of disclosure is a critical element of our work, and the more we understand it, the more we can improve the systems that respond to it.

With that in mind, I’d like to direct your attention to a study recently published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence: “Reluctance Versus Urge to Disclose Child Maltreatment:  The Impact of Multi-Type Maltreatment.”[1] This study was conducted as part of a large-scale epidemiological survey in Israel, and although there are obviously many differences between Israel and the United States, when it comes to child maltreatment rates, as well as intervention and treatment systems, the two are surprisingly similar. 

The researchers in the current study set out to “examine the association between multi-type CM [child maltreatment] exposure and disclosure preferences (i.e., reluctance vs. urge to disclose) in Israeli Jewish and Arab children and youth, while also examining the role of CM in the association between emotional reactions to abusive experience and disclosure preferences. In addition, the study sought to investigate the association between victims’ demographics (i.e., gender, age, and ethnicity) and their reluctance versus urge to disclose.”  Id., p. 3. 

Out of a pool of over 12,000 Israeli Jewish and Arab students, the researchers focused on 6,253 students who reported “at least one type of CM (i.e., psychological, sexual, physical abuse, or neglect) at any level of severity. The findings showed that “half (50.9%) of the participants were exposed to one type of CM; almost a third (28.7%) reported experiencing two types of CM, and a fifth (20.4%) reported exposure to three or four CM types.”  Id., pp. 11-13. 

The results of this study will not surprise you. The researchers found that “the extent of victimization functions as a moderator between the level of emotional reactions and disclosure preferences.”  Id., p. 18. In other words, the children who “reported high levels of emotional reactions and greater exposure to CM were more reluctant to disclose, whereas those who reported low levels of emotional reactions and fewer exposures to CM reported a greater urge to disclose.”  Id. Moreover, the researchers found that “many survivors of CM hide their childhood sexual, physical, psychological and/or neglect victimization, thereby avoiding disclosure that could potentially aid in the identification of their perpetrators, as well as end the maltreatment, and bring them help as victims.”  Id.

Although the findings are familiar, the concerns that the researchers raise within those findings are both unique and useful. The researchers noted a greater reluctance amongst the Israeli Arab children with regard to disclosure.  They state that “[a]lthough there is limited clinical and research literature on disclosure of CM by children and adolescent victims belonging to ethnic and cultural minorities, it is evident that these individuals are likely to encounter additional obstacles on the pathway to disclosure.”  Id

Among these obstacles are “language barriers, social isolation, concerns related to immigration status or deportation, discrimination, lack of knowledge and familiarity with community support systems, absence of culture specific services, racism, and cultural insensitivity in mainstream programs.”  Id.  In addition to obstacles, there are basic cultural differences that may unwittingly hamper disclosures. For example, the researchers note that “children raised within cultures supporting more collectivistic values may be more hesitant to disclose their abuse due to heightened concerns regarding the negative impact their disclosure may bring upon their family.”  Id., p. 20. 

If these obstacles and concerns sound familiar, they should—they are the same kinds of concerns and issues that NCA’s Cultural Competency and Diversity Standard seeks to address. It is why the Standard requires each CAC to conduct “a comprehensive assessment of the entire community and jurisdiction that they serve…. The assessment should inform the development of goals and strategies that ensure that the CAC delivers high quality, relevant, and accessible services to all children and families in need.” NCA Standards for Accredited Members 2017, p. 17. 

And there are some terrific resources out there to help you meet this Standard. First and foremost, I would suggest that you check out the free, self-paced video series course on cultural competence issues in forensic interviewing that is offered through MRCAC’s online training center. This course is designed and presented by Dr. Lisa Fontes, a leading expert in these issues. 

I encourage you to download this article and read it in full, and to share it widely with your colleagues and team members. Its findings can inform our discussions of disclosures and of cultural competence, and the influence each has on the other, and with such discussions comes progress.

As always, I thank you for all your hard work and dedication and for all that you do on behalf of children and families.

Warm regards,  
[1] Full text of this publication may be found in the National Children's Advocacy Center's Child Abuse Library Online (CALiO ™) or by contacting the NCAC Research Digital Information Librarian. CALiO ™ is a service of the National Children's Advocacy Center (NCAC). | 516 C Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002 US

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