Disclosure: How you can help

If you are reading this page, it is likely that are interested in understanding how you can best respond to a man who discloses an experience of childhood sexual abuse.  Included below is information about what can hinder or support men’s disclosure, along with some suggestions as to how you might initially respond and assist a male survivor. 

We encourage you to also check out the companion pages Men’s Disclosure: Deciding to tell and Men’s disclosure: Information for partners which recognises the particular challenges and important role of partners and family members in responding to a disclosure by a love one.    

Barriers to disclosure 

Those perpetrating sexual abuse are heavily invested in children and adults keeping the secret and not speaking about what is happening or has happened.  Boys and men, like girls and women, commonly do not speak of sexual abuse as a child or as an adult until decades later, for a number of reasons:  

  • Out of concern for their own safety and the safety of loved ones  
  • Because of fear and threats that they will be in trouble, judged, abandoned, or that  people they care about will think badly and be disappointed in them.    
  • To protect and not burden parents, siblings, family, friends, partners and loved ones 
  • Due to sense of guilt, shame, embarrassment that is not theirs to carry 
  • Because some people who abuse work hard to purchase silence through gifts, treats and special moments 
  • Due to hurt and confusion, not having the language or being of an age to identify the experience as sexual abuse 
  • Because someone has manipulated and groomed them and made them feel complicit and responsible in some way 
  • Because someone has manipulated and groomed those close to them, so that the child becomes isolated or seen as someone who is untrustworthy and ‘trouble’ 
  • Mistrust of others: Not having someone to talk with who they feel will understand and respond positively  
  • Not wanting to revisit the abuse experience or even seeing that telling someone could be in any way potentially beneficial (“what’s the point”) 

Men also identify struggling with: 

  • Unhelpful beliefs that being sexually abused as a boy says something about the kind of man he is or will become.   
  • Gendered expectations that he should have been able to prevent the abuse from happening (This both fails to acknowledge that he was a child at the time, the grooming and manipulation utilized by those perpetrating abuse and is ‘victim blaming’) 
  • Gendered expectations that as a male he shouldn’t express vulnerability or should be able to ‘push through’, cope with and manage difficulties.  Because he wants to be seen as okay and coping.  
  • Concern that in speaking and opening ‘the can of worms’ he will become overwhelmed by emotions and lose control, and people will see him as less of a man (experience gender shame). 
  • Having to deal with people thinking or suggesting that he might become a perpetrator (even though he has never thought of harming a child and never would).  
  • Homophobia and suggestion that being sexually abused by a man says something about his sexuality and sexual identity.   
  • Being physically manipulated by the person offending to make him question himself and what happened.  If this is something you have questions about, please check out our page on Male sexual assault and arousal
  • If a man identifies as gay or bisexual he may be concerned that he will face more stigma and blame. “If you’re gay, you fear that people will think [the sexual abuse] was something you wanted.” 
  • If he was abused by a woman, he may fear that people will not take his complaint seriously, and think he should be okay about it. 
  • Lack of awareness that sexual abuse happens to a significant number of boys and men and access to gender appropriate services (18.8% of Males report experience child sexual abuse before the age of 18yrs – 2.49 million Australian males – Child Maltreatment Study 2023).  

The above list of barriers to disclosure is by no means complete. Every man has his own particular experience, his own barriers to overcome and personal story to tell. 

What can prompt a disclosure 

Just as men and boys can be discouraged from speaking of abuse, so certain events can lead men to speak of their experiences. Disclosure of sexual abuse can be prompted by: 

  • Public discussion/inquiries and redress schemes (e.g. Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse and National Redress Scheme). 
  • Media reporting about abuse and trauma, TV, Radio, Social Media, Film    
  • Disclosure of a friend, partner, child, family member, work colleague, someone close. 
  • Becoming a parent or being close to a child who turns the age the man was when the abuse was perpetrated. 
  • Seeing the person who perpetrated the sexual abuse, hearing about or visiting the place where the abuse occurred. 
  • When a relationship breaks down or when a partner insists that for a relationship to survive you must tell them what is going on or see a counsellor. 
  • Seeking justice, redress, criminal, civil recognition.  If police make contact and seek a statement, witness evidence to support a prosecution. 
  • Reliving the assault through flashbacks, nightmares, etc. 
  • Health problems or a physical check up (e.g. suggestion of a prostate examination). 
  • When someone offers support, compassion and understanding. 
  • When a man becomes overwhelmed, is stressed and is just not coping. 
  • When a man feels he must deal with it or die 
  • Seeing and identifying a service that provides support to male survivors and their loved ones  
  • When someone asks the question.  

NOTE: For reasons of self care or because they are just not ready to speak about what happened, many men will say ‘No’ to a direct question.  Saying ‘Yes, I was sexually abused’ can feel a step too far.  Sometimes a more open question like ‘What was your childhood like?’ or a question that does not use the work ‘sexual’, like ‘Did you experience trauma or abuse in your childhood?’, will allow space for men to talk and maybe introduce the subject in their own way and own words. 

In recognising the many reasons that prompt or encourage a man to speak about his experiences, it is important not to underestimate the pressure to maintain secrecy.   

How you can help 

You do not have to be an expert or know all the right things to say to be able to help a man who has experienced sexual violence. A supportive friend, partner or family member can play a significant role in assisting someone struggling with the impacts of trauma and abuse.  There is no set way to support someone. Each person is unique and will react differently to what happened.  The fact that the man has raised the issue with you indicates that he wishes to let you know about what happened.  


Listen carefully to what he is saying. Let him speak at his pace and to reveal as much information as he is comfortable with.  Listen to understand his experience and what is important to him. 

Acknowledge that you are hearing what he is saying.  Give him your full attention (put your phone down). Recognise that disclosure is a challenge and be aware that at times he may struggle to find the words (especially if this is the first time he has told anyone).   

Try not to interrupt him or ask lots of questions. Don’t worry if he stops talking for a while – silences are okay. Focus on being personally present, you don’t have to rush in to fill the gaps. You do not need to know all the details, try not to ask for more information about the actual events than is volunteered.  Encourage him to take his time and let him know that you are here to listen.  


Let him know that you believe him.  Too many people who have experienced childhood sexual abuse have tried to tell someone and been disbelieved or told they were lying, mistaken or making it up.  This has resulted in boys and men shutting down, becoming reluctant to speak and too often experiencing further abuse and harm.  He may be expecting you to question him or not believe him.  Listen, acknowledge, let him know you believe him and check in with him as to how you may assist now and into the future?   

Be fully present 

Be physically and emotionally present and focus on being a solid, calm supportive friend.   Sometimes people’s disclosure can come as a shock and result in a rush of strong emotions – horror, anger, outrage – that this happened.  Breathe and let him know that while you may need time to process what he has said, you appreciate his trust in you in telling you.   

By keeping a check on expressing strong emotions and distressing thoughts, you will be in a better place to listen and hear what it is he is saying and wants you to know.  There is a danger if you become swept away or overwhelmed by emotions that he may feel that he needs to stop talking and take care of you or sees himself as responsible for upsetting you.  In acknowledging that you may be feeling a swirl of emotions and thoughts, it can be useful to let him know that you are ok and can look after yourself and at this moment your concern is for his wellbeing. 

Offer reassurance 

Let the man know that you are pleased that he has spoken with you. Be aware that he may not see his speaking up as courageous at this time.  If he tells you of feeling responsible for part of what happened, even though you recognise a child is never responsible for what is done to them, take time to listen and recognise this is his point of view.   

Tell him that you are pleased that he trusts you enough to talk with you about this.  Recognise that a reassuring, supportive conversation with you can be a first step to accessing professional assistance and placing responsibility where it should be – with the person who perpetrated the crime. 

Respect confidentiality and prioritise safety 

It is important that information which is disclosed to you is treated with respect and held in appropriate confidence. Make sure that you consult with him about what his expectations are, before sharing what he has told you with anyone else. He probably will not want you to say anything to anyone else without his express permission.  Be transparent and talk with him if you have concerns about his safety or the safety of anyone else.     

It is always important to prioritise safety and to act if you are concerned if anyone is in present danger of harming themselves or someone else.  If you can, talk with him about your concerns and work out jointly what the preferred course of action is.  If you have a concern that a child or adolescent is currently in an abusive situation, their safety is a primary concern. You might need to call emergency services or consider talking anonymously or in person with someone who knows about child protection. Be transparent and clear that your priority is long-term safety and wellbeing.   

Be there, check in, and become informed 

Be aware that while talking with a professional who has knowledge in addressing childhood trauma and abuse can be helpful, this does not replace encouragement and support of friends and companions.  Recognise that he may not always want to talk with you about it or for things to change in your relationship.  Just being there and continuing to engage in ordinary everyday conversations and activities can help us all feel better.   

Check in with him that he has the support he needs.  Focus on walking alongside and being there to support, without taking over.  If you have a good relationship with a man, stay connected and spend time together, you are in a better position to talk with him, let him know if you are concerned.   

Take time to become informed about service and support options, so that if he does ask for assistance you are prepared.  Linking someone in with a supportive local GP can be a first in finding their feet.   

In brief: 

  • Stay engaged, offer encouragement and continue to increase his options and choices.  
  • While you cannot change what happened, you can have a positive impact in the present.   
  • Do not underestimate the value of a supportive friend.   

Prioritise wellbeing and support 

Being there and offering support to someone who has experienced trauma and abuse can have ripple effects in our own lives, not all of which are negative.  It is good for all of us to prioritise our personal and relational wellbeing, at all times, not just at times of stress.  Do continue to put aside time to relax and engage in everyday routines and activities which recharge your batteries.  

As someone offering support you may also benefit from talking with a counsellor or experienced worker, who can provide information, process feelings and explore your choices (you can find ways to do this without sharing a person’s identity).   If you are someone who has experienced childhood trauma and abuse yourself, you might be uniquely placed to assist the man and equally deserve to be supported.  

Note: Be aware that walking alongside someone who has experienced trauma can contribute to our lives in positive and surprising ways, by providing a sense of purpose and meaning, building resilience and compassion and a greater appreciation of relationships.  

Remember the stronger, better connected and supported you are, the more able you are to offer support and encouragement to others.