Nonprofit organization CHILD USA has released a report on delayed disclosure, the phenomenon of child sex abuse survivors waiting years to come forward. Many victims don’t disclose their abuse until they’re adults, if they do at all. The report examines the effects of delayed disclosure and the hurdles survivors face when they share their experiences, along with statistics about how long it takes to come forward. CHILD USA is a Pennsylvania-based think tank that advocates for children’s civil rights. The nonprofit specializes in legal analysis and research on child sex abuse.
Delayed disclosure has implications for victims seeking justice through the legal system. Filing a civil sex abuse lawsuit is often the only path forward for survivors who want to hold perpetrators accountable, but state statute of limitations frequently limit their ability to sue. While most states have removed criminal statutes of limitations for child sex abuse, many still place restrictions on when victims can pursue legal action.
In recent years, more states have passed legislation to remove the civil statute of limitations, but only 20 U.S. jurisdictions have adopted “lookback window” laws. These laws create a period for victims to file lawsuits against perpetrators, regardless of when the abuse occurred. In Louisiana, which passed a lookback window law in 2021, the law has faced legal challenges from religious institutions that argue it’s unconstitutional. State trial and appellate courts have upheld the law, and other states have ruled that lookback windows are constitutional. Understanding delayed disclosure and why it occurs could help governing bodies recognize why victim advocates recommend eliminating the civil statutes of limitations.
An Overview of Delayed Disclosure
The CHILD USA report found that over 70% of victims wait at least five years to disclose abuse. In some cases, victims may not realize they’ve experienced child sex abuse until they are old enough to understand what happened to them. About 20% of survivors don’t tell anyone they were abused. An analysis of Boy Scouts of America victims showed that 65% were over 50 years old when they first disclosed abuse — and 14% were between 70 and 90 years old. Institutional sex abuse can make it even harder for victims to tell. They may feel a duty to protect their abuser and not say anything that could reflect poorly on the organization. The emotional and mental fallout often lasts a lifetime when a trusted authority figure commits a child sex abuse crime.
When victims disclose abuse during childhood, they usually tell other young people, like siblings and friends. Even when survivors tell adults, they are unlikely to report the crime to the police. Less than 3% of sexual assault suspects are incarcerated for their crimes, so the statistical likelihood of a perpetrator spending time in jail is low. Victims may feel like filing a law enforcement report is pointless.
Reasons for Delayed Disclosure
According to the report, some of the most common reasons for delayed disclosure are due to the psychological and emotional impact of abuse. Victims may cope with their experience by blocking out the trauma of what happened and dissociating from reality. They may struggle to comprehend the abuse and explain it to anyone. Shame and fear are common responses to abuse, and a survivor may choose to stay silent because they blame themselves. Victims often struggle to disclose when the abuser is a family member or close friend and when the abuse happens in an institutional setting. Men are more likely to experience delayed disclosure than women, which the report partly attributes to gender norms.
Delayed Disclosure Lawsuits
Sam Doe vs. The Diocese of Lafayette is a lawsuit filed in 2020 by Herman Herman Katz and co-counsel. The anonymous Doe alleged that Fr. Stanley Begnaud, an ordained priest in the Diocese of Lafayette, sexually assaulted him when he was 16 years old. After years in therapy, he realized that he’d been molested by the priest and sued the diocese for negligence and fraudulent concealment. Under Louisiana’s previous law, victims only had until their 28th birthday to file a civil sex abuse lawsuit. But the Louisiana lookback window law allows survivors who don’t disclose until they’re older a way to seek justice. The window ends on June 14, 2024, so survivors thinking about lawsuits should move quickly.
Herman Herman Katz specializes in Louisiana sex abuse cases and represents victims who are pursuing justice. We hold institutions accountable for protecting predators instead of the children in their care. If you are a victim of child sex abuse, call us at 844-943-7626 or contact us for a free case review.
Soren E. Gisleson, is a Partner at Herman, Herman & Katz, L.L.C. and attorney advocate for survivors of clergy sexual abuse.