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Summit, R.C. (2013). The Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome. Att: New Dir. in Psychother. Relat. Psychoanal., 7(2):125-147.

(2013). Attachment: New Directions in Psychotherapy and Relational Psychoanalysis, 7(2):125-147

Articles

The Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome

Roland C. Summit

Child victims of sexual abuse face secondary trauma in the crisis of discovery. Their attempts to reconcile their private experiences with the realities of the outer world are assaulted by the disbelief, blame, and rejection they experience from adults. The normal coping behaviour of the child contradicts the entrenched beliefs and expectations typically held by adults, stigmatising the child with charges of lying, manipulating, or imagining from parents, courts, and clinicians. Such abandonment by the very adults most crucial to the child's protection and recovery drives the child deeper into self-blame, self-hate, alienation, and revictimisation. In contrast, the advocacy of an empathic clinician within a supportive treatment network can provide vital credibility and endorsement for the child.

Evaluation of the responses of normal children to sexual assault provides clear evidence that societal definitions of “normal” victim behaviour are inappropriate and procrustean, serving adults as mythic insulators against the child's pain. Within this climate of prejudice, the sequential survival options available to the victim further alienate the child from any hope of outside credibility or acceptance. Ironically, the child's inevitable choice of the “wrong” options reinforces and perpetuates the prejudicial myths.

The most typical reactions of children are classified in this paper as the child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome. The syndrome is composed of five categories, of which two define basic childhood vulnerability and three are sequentially contingent on sexual assault: (1) secrecy, (2) helplessness, (3) entrapment and accommodation, (4) delayed, unconvincing disclosure, and (5) retraction. The accommodation syndrome is proposed as a simple and logical model for use by clinicians to improve understanding and acceptance of the child's position in the complex and controversial dynamics of sexual victimisation. Application of the syndrome tends to challenge entrenched myths and prejudice, providing credibility and advocacy for the child within the home, the courts, and throughout the treatment process.

The paper also provides discussion of the child's coping strategies as analogues for subsequent behavioural and psychological problems, including implications for specific modalities of treatment.

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