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Lecture 2

PSYC 376 Lecture 2: Unit 2

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PSYC 376
Trishia Coburn

Unit 2: Disclosure, Denial, and Recantation of Allegations of Child Sexual Abuse Learning Outcomes Understand the child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome; what it is, its place in recent history, its current status, and the research it stimulated. Critically evaluate survey research on delayed disclosure, denial, and recantation of child sexual abuse. Explain patterns of disclosure, denial, and recantation of child sexual abuse. Introduction We begin with a review of Summits child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome because it was one of the first attempts to explain how children disclose sexual abuse and because it once was very influential in criminal cases in Canada and the United States. We then provide a thorough evaluation of available evidence on childrens disclosure patterns based on two kinds of surveys: adults retrospective reports of childhood sexual abuse and surveys of children who are suspected to be victims of sexual abuse. Of particular importance is the critique of studies and the discussions of why some methodologies seriously restrict what can be concluded and may even render the data uninterruptable. Notwithstanding the methodological limitations of several studies, London et al. (2005, 2008) drew some compelling conclusions about childrens disclosure patterns. Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome The question of how children disclose sexual abuse was discussed in a seminal paper by Summit (1983). In this paper he described a theory that he called Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome (CSAAS) wherein he described five components that characterize sexually abused children. Summit did not present CSAAS as a diagnostic tool for sexual abuse (Summit, 1992); however, that is how it was used for many years in some clinical practices (London, Bruck, Ceci, Shuman, 2005) and in several court cases in Canada and in the United States. Expert evidence based on child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome had been accepted as evidence of sexual abuse as late as 1992. In fact, it was fully endorsed in two cases before the Supreme Court of Canada(M. (K.) v. M. (H.), 1992) and R. v. L. (D. O.), 1993). More recently, Canadian courts have declared CSAAS to be a theory that has no diagnostic power (R. v. A. K., 1999) and one that has been debunked (L. M. M., v Nova Scotia (Attorney General), 2010). Notwithstanding its checkered past, it is important to understand this theory as a context for subsequent research on disclosure patterns among child sexual abuse (CSA) victims. According to CSAAS, there are five components that characterize CSA victims: secrecy, helplessness, entrapment and accommodation, delayed and unconvincing disclosure, and retraction. Paradoxically, Summit argued, it is the very behaviours that allow a child to survive the trauma that lead to disclosure that appears unreliable and fantastical. A very brief description of each component follows. Secrecy For a variety of reasons and in a variety of ways, the child is required to keep the abuse a secret. She or he may be given the power to preserve the family (keep the secret) or to destroy the family (disclose the secret).
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