Accommodation Syndrome

The child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome is an explanation for why children do not reveal that they have been sexually abused. Roland Summit (1993) first described these common reactions that children have following abuse. These include:  

When a child discloses sexual abuse, it is possible that what happens after the disclosure will cause secondary trauma. The child may be reinjured if not believed, and this may seriously alter his or her ability to trust again. The stakes are high and the child knows it. If she tells, the biggest fear is that she will not be believed.

All children know what happens in their homes when they do something wrong. They know what happens when they try to defend what they did and give an excuse. With instances of sexual abuse, the child tends to feel guilty, like he or she did something wrong. The offender may have warned them about the consequences of telling the secret. Children then feel helpless and trapped. They learn how to accept and cope with the ongoing sexual abuse. They learn how to survive. 

Children often behave in inconsistent ways after being sexually abused, and adults often misinterpret these behaviors. If the abuse is disclosed, the child has to cope with the chaos that follows. The perpetrator denies it, adults do not believe them, and children retract their disclosures. They say it really did not happen, change their stories, or just shut down and say nothing. In shutting down and no longer talking about the abuse, the child has found a way to survive. 


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