Disclosure: Deciding to tell 

Talking about sexual abuse is no simple matter.

Disclosure is shaped by a person’s individual experiences, their particular circumstances and the resources and support available to them at the time and across their lifespan.  It is also influenced by a person’s assessment of the value of talking about what happened and how a disclosure may be received and responded to.   

Listed below is information on what can help or hinder men’s disclosure of child sexual abuse, along with some question you might think about if you considering telling someone about your experiences.  We recognise that everyone’s experience and life circumstance is unique and encourage everyone reading this page to continue to prioritise your wellbeing.  

If you are interested in understanding how you might support and respond to a man who discloses child sexual abuse, we recommend checking out our page for supporters, Men’s disclosure: How you can help.  We have also created an additional companion page Men’s disclosure: Information for partners.

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).  

What would you add to the list? 

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 would you add to the list?’ 
  • ‘Is there something that has made it particularly difficult for you speak about what happened?’ 

Men who have experienced child sexual abuse have said: 

“I was so embarrassed that I couldn’t find the words to say exactly what he was doing, but hell I tried often enough. Now I wonder why they didn’t guess something was wrong.”

“In Western culture, boys and men are taught to be the tough ones: we’re not meant to cry or appear vulnerable, we’re supposed to protect ourselves and have the answers. Would you tell under circumstances like that?”

“I just wanted to forget about it and get on with my life.”

What can prompt 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.   

A difficulty with secrecy 

“Well, it’s just keeping a secret, not letting anybody into your past. You’re so frightened basically of what your family might say against you, or scared of reliving the past, that you don’t want to bring it up. I had what happened in the back of my mind all of the time, but it felt like if I don’t say anything to anybody, well one day I might just end it. And if I went to my grave no one else would ever know what happened to me.”

As the above quote suggests, a particular problem that men who experience child sexual abuse often face is that safety can become wrapped up with secrecy in unhelpful ways.  At one point, not saying anything could very well have been a matter of life and death. You might have been only too aware of the potential consequences of telling. 

As time went by, you could have become convinced that saying something could cause more trouble that it wouldn’t change anything, or that you would only face judgement and questions regarding why you hadn’t said anything before.   

Although secrecy might minimise harm as a child, the stress of holding it in can negatively impact our long term physical health and wellbeing. Secrecy can increase a sense of isolation.  It allows voices of self doubt and self blame to take hold and diminish us.  Secrecy can become a prison, trapping us, eating us up from the inside, can result in some coping strategies outstaying their welcome and limit us from obtaining the assistance we need and deserve.   

Choosing to tell in a way that prioritises safety and wellbeing 

If you are considering speaking with someone about your experiences, recognise that what you say, who you talk with and when, is very much your choice and in the process, do prioritise your safety and wellbeing.    

Recognising and prioritising the choices you have in speaking about what happened, will provide you with a greater sense of control.  While this does not make this an easy process, nor take away the fact that you may experience a rush of feelings and thoughts, the more you are able to choose what you say, how, when and with whom, the better.  In taking this step, it may be that some of your concerns are realised and it is important to prepare for this, it may also be that you receive the positive, supportive, compassionate response that you had not even considered possible.   

Some questions to consider 

Before speaking with someone, it can be useful to check in with yourself, to clarify your expectations and what might be a process that works for you.  You might ask yourself and write out:  

  • What is my purpose in sharing this information?   
  • What am I hoping to achieve? 
  • What are the potential costs and benefits of telling or not telling? 

Letting someone know of your experiences does not need to be an ‘all or nothing’ thing. You have the choice of who you speak with, what, and how much, information you share.   You decide when and whom to tell. It can be useful to consider the following points. 

  • How much information about my childhood experiences do I want to share? 
  • How might I state what occurred without becoming caught up in details or becoming triggered?  
  • How might I share information in a way that prioritises my wellbeing? 

One way of ensuring that you are able to say what you want to say, is to write it out first, to get it out of your head and organise your thoughts in text.  You can write, edit and rewrite until you feel you are saying exactly what you want it to say in the way you would like to say it. You might think about how you can say this in the clearest and least possible words.  Keep in mind that there is no right way or wrong way of telling someone about your experiences. 

If you do write down what you wish to say in the way you wish to say it, then you could share it with the person of your choosing at a time of your choosing.  Documenting in letter or statement form can be powerful: they signal this matter is important.  Writing down what you want to say also provides you with the option to read your words to the person, or use it as a practice run, to get your thoughts clear, prior to any conversation. 

Note to self  

Some men have also found it useful to write a note or letter to themselves.  It can be useful to write down some words of encouragement and support for yourself, to write to or from their future self, reminding them what their purpose is in sharing information at this time.   


If possible, it is useful to think through and consider possible options in preparation for what can be a tough conversation.  Research tells us that if a man receives a supportive response to a disclosure of childhood sexual abuse and he is assisted to access appropriate assistance, then it will enhance his overall wellbeing.  Unfortunately, however, such a response cannot be guaranteed. In deciding to disclose your experiences, it can be useful therefore to consider the below questions: 

  • How might I best prepare myself?   
  • What are my worries and concerns and how might I best manage these? 
  • What tells me that this person will be able to hear what I am saying? 
  • What am I looking for from this person?  
  • How might I prepare this person for what I am about to say? 
  • How might I frame this up and speak in a way that will assist them to hear what I am saying? 
  • What kind of response would I like? (Be realistic and manage your expectations) 
  • How might I take care of myself before and after this conversation? 

Recognise that a person might want to respond in a helpful ways, but may initially be unsure what to say or do.   

Tip: we recommend checking out a companion pages Men’s disclosure: How you can help and Men’s disclosure: Information for partnersAt the appropriate time, you might share a link or copy of these pages 

Be prepared for uncertainty 

It is useful to remember that when you are talking with someone, it is not possible to determine where the conversation will go. You do not know how they will react, and you cannot plan for every eventuality. How someone responds will be determined by their own history, concerns, values, beliefs and the kind of relationship, short and long-term, that they have with you. 

In disclosing and talking with someone, recognise that this may be new information for them.  Consider taking it slowly, allowing time for both of you to breathe. Try not to ‘over interpret’ what the person initially says or does, it can take a bit of time for someone to take in what you have told them. Be careful not to ‘overload’ them with details about the actual abuse, even if they ask.  Like you, the person you are speaking with will typically want to gather their thoughts.


Obtaining support and assistance to manage the impacts of trauma and abuse and enhance your life and relationships will take perseverance.  While there is increased understanding about the extent and impact of sexual abuse community wise, disclosure can still be a shock and direct one on one conversations tough.  Do persevere and continue to prioritise your wellbeing.   

Remember, the decision to talk about sexual abuse is yours

Whether you are talking with a partner, friend, family member, doctor, police officer or counsellor, you have a choice as to how you respond to a question that is asked of you. Do continue to prioritise your wellbeing in sharing details about your experience and thinking through where to from here. While sexual abuse involves taking away your choice, this can be opportunity for you to experience being in control and in charge of your choices.