End Ritual Abuse The Website of Ellen P. Lacter, Ph.D.

Factors that Cause Disclosure of Child Abuse to be Withheld or Delayed


In about 1986, based in my work with abused children, I (Ellen Lacter) began to create a list of reasons why children cannot disclose their abuse or why they delay disclosure. I found this list to be a very useful therapy tool with victims of all ages – children, teens, and adults. Many child abuse victims condemn themselves for not being able to disclose their abuse earlier. Well-meaning protective parents often respond to their child’s or teen’s disclosure of abuse by saying, “Why didn’t you tell me?” When children/teens hear this, they tend to condemn themselves as morally bad, as lacking courage, etc. I learned to change the question from, “Why didn’t you tell?” to, “Do you remember all the reasons that you could not tell?”

I used a very early version of this list to help children and teens remember why they could not tell, and to give them language to describe their experiences of terror, self-blame, etc., during the period of withheld disclosure. Then the child/teen had something to work with to help them remember and articulate all of the reasons they could not tell anyone about their abuse, until they did. I also used this list with adult clients to help them remember why they could not tell anyone earlier. I found that this tool helped them be able to think and talk more about their abuse and their withheld disclosure, and to reduce their self-condemnation and shame. I presented on this topic at community agencies.

By the mid-1990s, I had begun to understand the role of dissociative amnesia and dissociation of identity in delayed and withheld disclosure, and added items of this nature to the list.

By the late 1990s, I had acquired significant knowledge about more extreme abuse, including ritual abuse and trauma-based mind control. I learned about many strategies that extreme abusers use to systematically manipulate victims’ identities (“mind control programming”) in efforts to: 1)  block “fronting” “normative-life” identities from having conscious awareness of their ongoing or past abuse, and, 2) block fronting identities from ever disclosing their abuse, for a lifetime. My list continued to expand and I included it in my classes at the University of California- San Diego, Extended Studies.

Then in the 2000s, I acquired significant knowledge about the production of sadistic child abuse materials, and the forms of terrorization used within this abuse to silence victims. I learned that one threat to a child to harm or kill a loved one, such as a protective parent, is enough to silence a victim for decades or a lifetime. This new awareness became incorporated into the list as well.

So, this list represents my current understanding of the factors that cause disclosure of abuse to be consciously withheld or that cause abuse memories to be dissociated, including many fears of the consequences of disclosure: actual, anticipated, or threatened by abuser(s).

The first half of this list are General Factors. The second half are Factors in Extreme Abuse.

General Factors

Brutal abuse, physical or sexual, paired with commands to never tell.
Threats of harm against self or loved ones, including pets.
Fear of not being believed; in many cases, abusers tell children that they won’t be believed.
Fear of being blamed by others.
Fear of “getting in trouble,” being seen as equally at fault, being told, “It takes two to tango.”
Self-blame for not fighting or escaping, for unacceptable helplessness, forgetting the entrapment.
Abusers make children feel to blame, call them seductive, tell them they wanted it, coerce perpetration, tell them they are accomplices, murderers, evil, that they liked it, etc.
Fear of being judged as crazy and psychiatric hospitalization; this is often threatened by abusers.
Gaslighting, that is, psychological manipulation to cause victims to question their own sanity.*
A belief that the abuse may be justified, right, normal/typical, especially if the abuse began early.
Fear of condemnation, loss of love, or abandonment by a parent or other attachment figure.
Fear of being sent to a foster-home or orphanage; this is often threatened by abusers.
Fear of going to jail; many abusers coerce victims to perform sexual behavior with other children or adults, to physically abuse, or kill other victims, then define them as evil, criminals, accomplices, murderers, etc.; abusers often film coerced perpetration and threaten to turn over these recording to law enforcement if victims make any disclosures.
Shame regarding use of alcohol or drugs; some abusers intentionally make victims addicts.
Fear of retaliation against the self; this is often a fear of more intense abuse of the same type.
Fear of retaliatory abuse, torture, abduction or murder, of family members, pets, friends, etc.; this is often threatened or demonstrated against loved ones of other victims.
Fear of punishment by deities worshiped by the abusers; this is a common tactic in ritual abuse.
Fear that the abuser(s) will begin to sexually abuse a younger sibling; many abusers threaten this, even when it is happening already, unbeknownst to the victim.
Loss of some future benefit promised by the abuser(s).
Fear of causing the abuser to feel emotionally abandoned or to suffer psychologically.
Fear of loss of love or abandonment by the abuser(s).
Fear of arrest and incarceration of the abuser and being to blame or being blamed for this.
Fear of the abuser(s) committing suicide.
Fear of psychological suffering or suicide of an other key attachment figure.
Fear of parental divorce or parental separation if the abuser is a parent, step-parent, etc.
Fear of retaliatory abuse to the person to whom the abuse is disclosed; this may be threatened.
Fear of being viewed as a seductress or prostitute; this is compounded when victims are given gifts, money, favoritism, etc.
Fear of violating cultural mores, especially in cultures that view girls and women as seductresses.
Fear of violating a religious injunctions, e.g., if children are seen as parents’ property, if children are indoctrinated to respect elders, etc.
Fear of financial ruin or homelessness for family, self, or abuser.
Fear that once the abuse is spoken aloud, it will be experienced as more real, harder to pretend away and/or to dissociate.
Fear of weakening amnestic barriers between front self-states who are unaware of the abuse and dissociated self-states who hold abuse memories, i.e., fear of knowing the abuse.
Distrust of one’s memories, perceptions, judgements, sanity; in some cases, this is exacerbated by the “false memory” propaganda of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, etc.
Dissociative confusion of reality vs. dreams; some abusers tell victims: “You just dreamt it”.
A belief that non-abusive attachment figures sanctioned the abuse; some abusers tell victims this.
Confusion in reality-testing; this is often based in abuser tactics to confuse a child, e.g., giving a child mind-altering drugs, telling children they imagined it or only dreamt it.
The effects of psychologically-sophisticated manipulation of dissociated self-states to prevent disclosure, to induce amnestic barriers, etc. See section below: Tactics in Extreme Abuse.

*The term, gaslighting, comes from a 1938 stage play, Gaslight, in which a husband attempts to drive his wife crazy by dimming the lights in their home (which were powered by gas), then denies that the lights change when she asks about them. For more on abusers use of gaslighting, see: Tormoen, M. (2019). Gaslighting: How Pathological Labels Can Harm Psychotherapy Clients, Journal of Humanistic Psychology. First Published July 27, 2019 https://doi.org/10.1177/0022167819864258
Full text article: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0022167819864258

See: Why Children Don’t Tell: https://lacasacenter.org/why-child-abuse-victims-dont-tell/

Factors in Extreme Abuse

A. Tactics that Do Not Necessarily Rely on Manipulation of Dissociated Self-states

Memory of these tactics may be held in conscious memory, may be dissociated defensively, or, may have been intentionally applied to particular identities.

Abusers have one person in the abuse network pretend to be loving and supportive; this person does something enjoyable with the child after the abuse to create a screen memory of a happy time together.

Threats to harm to murder, abduct, torture, etc., parents, siblings, friends, pets, etc., as punishment for any form of disclosure; one threat of this nature often effectively silences.

Threats to torture other victims, often children the child is bonded to, for any disclosure Coerced perpetration against other victims to make victims view themselves as accomplices Coerced recorded confessions to participating in crimes (a common tactic with prisoners of war). Some members of the abuser network are police officers or dress as such.

Forcing the child to witness the torture or murder of other victims who began to disclose.

Setting a child up to trust someone and disclose something to them, then torture-punish them.

Pairing torture with directives and threats to not ever disclose; the directive and the memory of the torture are psychologically registered together, classically conditioned, and deeply stored in the amygdala (fear-conditioning; see Joseph Ledoux, The Emotional Brain, 1996).

Deception, that is, use of lies, film, illusions, staged scenarios, impersonators, often while victims are in hyper-suggestible states induced by torture or drugs, to convince them that:

You “dreamed this,” “imagined this,” “made thus up,” by telling them so.
Their protective parents or other caregivers are part of the abuser network.
Their protective parents gave them to the abuser network and do not love them.
The abusers are their true parents, family, etc.
The abusers always hear or see them, and read their minds.
An all-seeing eye is always watching them and reporting back.
An evil deity, animal, bird, or insect, hears or sees them, reads their minds, etc.
They will be confined to a mental hospital if they disclose the abuse.
An explosive device has been placed in them that will activate upon disclosure.

Commands to harm the self, suicide, starve self, if they tell, paired with threats of retaliation.

B. Tactics that Intentionally Psychologically Manipulate (Program) Dissociative Self-states:

Manipulation of particular personalities to bond them to particular abusers, to make them feel loved, special, selected for a leadership position in which they will be abused less, sexually bonded, responsible for the well-being and emotional needs of the abuser, etc.

Manipulation of dissociative personality systems to prevent conscious access to abuse memories in front/normative personalities; amnesia programming.

Abusers tell a child, “JoJo stays here [abuse site]; Joey goes home and does not remember JoJo.”
Torture, illusions, coerced perpetration, etc., to set up particular personalities to guard against abuse ever being disclosed;

“Don’t Tell” programming.

Programming to set up dissociated personalities to cause suicide, often by killing other personalities, in response to any personality “disobeying” any abuser directive, including:

a) Front/normative personalities remembering the abuse.
b) Front/normative personalities discovering abuse-bearing personalities.
c) Any personality considering or making any disclosure of the abuse.
d) Any personality failing to return to the abusers as directed.
e) Any personality failing to harm or abduct another victim.

Setting up personalities to prevent productive use of psychotherapy; anti-therapy programming.
Psychologically manipulating particular self-states to report in any disloyalty, disclosure, etc.
Programming to induce personalities to return to the abusers to reinforce programming.
All of the tactics listed in A above may be applied to particular personalities.

Also see on challenges to disclosure: The Canadian Department of Justice (2019): The Impact of Trauma on Adult Sexual Assault Victims, especially Part III.
Link: https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/jr/trauma/index.html
2019 Canadian Department of Justice Report pdf: https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/jr/trauma/trauma_eng.pdf

Kluft (2010): Reasons why memories of incest trauma may become inaccessible or be withheld:

Familiar mechanisms of defense
Dissociated storage processes and structures
Conscious coping mechanisms
Guilt and shame
Loyalty to/protection of the abuser
Protection of family members and of the family
Perceived moral or religious imperative to withhold
Confusion about the reality of events and their meanings
Confusion about the source and nature of and misunderstanding of the meanings of available mental contents; obsessing over the reality of mental material
Consequences of obfuscation or gaslighting (a) or promoted reinterpretations of events
Obsessing over the meanings of terms
Deliberate or inadvertent discouragement of reporting by others
Encouragement to doubt or dismiss memories [e.g., “This is just a dream,”]
Contamination (b)
Strategic withholding with goals and objectives in mind
Driven withholding, motivated by higher priorities (personal or cultural, including defending loved ones)

a. Gaslighting involves providing a person with false information in order to bring that person to doubt his or her perceptions and memories. The term comes from a play and movies about a husband’s attempt to drive his wife insane by raising and lowering the illumination in their home and denying that any changes had occurred. [See: Tormoen, 2019]

b. Contamination is information that is not autobiographic but to which one was exposed; it influences memory or may become the basis for a memory with no basis in autobiographic fact.

Kluft R. (2010). Ramifications of incest: the role of memory. Psychiatric Times 27 (12): 48-55

End Ritual Abuse The Website of Ellen P. Lacter, Ph.D.

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