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Last amended 
18 April 2017

Common barriers to disclosing abuse

It is not unusual for people to disclose abuse many months or years after it has occurred. Many never disclose what happened to them at all. There is a range of reasons why people fear reporting abuse including:

Guilt and shame. For example, in our society the stigma associated with being sexually assaulted is high. It is not unusual for survivors to be blamed and for the assault to be minimised. Survivors often take on this blame and feel shame for what has been done to them.

Depression and feelings of helplessness. It takes a self-belief and motivation to disclose. Feeling flat and depressed can take that motivation away.

Fear of re-experiencing the abuse (through images of abuse/nightmares). People who have been abused are often afraid of talking about what happened to them because this can lead to extreme distress and vivid memories that are hard to bear. 

Fear of reprisal by perpetrator or others in power

Negative experiences of reporting. In Australia, many people who experience abuse receive little support. In the military, a large percentage of Defence members and veterans who have received reparation through the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce (DART) did so because of reported Defence mismanagement. Some survivors do not report the abuse because they fear that nothing will be done.

Fear of being given a negative label. For example some heterosexual men who have been sexually assaulted by another man may fear being seen as a homosexual; often people who have experienced abuse are afraid that they will be seen as “weak” or “damaged”.

Fear of being judged for their perceived role in abuse. Survivors often judge their own behaviour during the abuse harshly and fear that others will do the same. For example, if a person had too much to drink before being assaulted, they may fear that others will think the assault is their fault because they were drinking.

Fear of being judged if experience of abuse included being made to witness or participate in abuse of others. Reports to the Royal Commission and the DART include instances where some survivors of abuse were also made to participate in, or to witness, abuse of others. Some survivors may feel they ‘deserved’ their own abuse because they did not refuse to witness others’ abuse, irrespective of whether they were in a position to refuse.

People who have experienced abuse in the military do not report the abuse for many of the same reasons as civilian survivors; however, there are additional reasons why it is difficult to disclose:

  • Perpetrator(s) will often be from the person’s workplace or in command. The perpetrators may not have been discharged, and therefore may cross paths with the survivor throughout their career.

  • In the military, there is less separation between a person’s private and professional lives. A person may see their abuser at work, at their living quarters or have them associated with their social circle. For many survivors who live on base or mostly socialise with colleagues, it can be very difficult to be away from the abuser.

  • Given that strength and resilience are highly valued in the military, some survivors fear that others will find out about the abuse and that they will be perceived as weak and unable to accomplish what is required for their role or a mission.

  • Many fear that knowledge of the abuse and its impacts will reduce the likelihood of promotion or deployment, or lead to separation from the military.