Researchers estimate that 5–15% of children experience ongoing bullying (Pepler & Craig, 2000), 1 in 4 children are victims of sexual abuse (Finkelhor, 1979; 1991), and 50-80% of people in North America are exposed to a traumatic event severe enough to potentially cause post-traumatic stress disorder (Kessler, et al, 1995; Resick, 2000). Clearly, exposure to violence, abuse and traumatic events is central to the lives of many of those to whom social workers provide services. Social workers practicing with individuals and communities exposed to trauma and abuse need to: 1) increase awareness and advocacy for safer families and communities; 2) promote policies that will protect those vulnerable to abuse; 3) develop organizational interventions to create environments that will not tolerate abuse and are sensitive to victims and; 4) provide direct clinical work with those who suffer the consequences of victimization and trauma.
Despite recognizing the impact of abuse and trauma, little research has been conducted on disclosure of trauma, abuse or victimization. One concerning and consistent finding suggests that many children do not admit to victimization by peers (Hanish & Guerra, 2000). Up to 80% of child sexual abuse victims do not disclose until adulthood (Paine & Hansen, 2002). Finally, while it is recognized that rescue workers exposed to disaster scenes may become hidden victims of disaster, emergency organizations frequently do not encourage disclosure of trauma response (Regehr & Bober, 2004).
In light of disclosure as an understudied area, this symposium presents papers on three studies conducted with different populations: 1) victims of bullying; 2) child sexual abuse survivors; and 3) emergency responders exposed to trauma. The first paper reports on a mixed method study examining the impact of bullying from the perspectives of children, their parents, teachers, vice principals and principals, to explain interpersonal processes that protect or place a child at risk for continuing victimization. One essential variable that emerged in analysis consisted of factors that influence disclosure by the victims. The second paper draws on a qualitative study exploring dynamics that impede or promote disclosure of CSA, and the impact of gender, to understand similarities and differences in disclosure processes between male and female CSA victims. The third paper presents the results of a mixed method study examining trauma response among emergency responders, organizational supports, and the influence of organizational culture on disclosure and support seeking.
Overlapping themes emerged across the studies. First, disclosure is a difficult process leaving a concerning number of victims feeling ostracized or more vulnerable after telling. Second, environmental influences, gender and social supports are important aspects to consider in work involving disclosure. Finally, both adult and child victims respond to overt and subtle cues in their environment regarding safety of disclosure; males and females find it difficult to disclose but for very different reasons; and social supports play an important role in initial disclosure attempts and post-disclosure. These and other findings will be discussed in this three paper symposia.