Understanding Child Sexual Abuse Accomodation Syndrome

Image credit; The Blue Ribbon Project

You may like it or not like it, you may turn your face away in disgust, you may experience shock when you read of a little girl having been repeatedly raped by her father till she became pregnant and lost her baby. But child sexual abuse within the family exists and is rampant though the media can shed light only on the tip of a massive iceberg that lies hidden beneath the large ocean of abuse and torture of children across the world in general and India in particular.

What is ‘incestuous rape’? Dr. Sanjay Chugh, senior consultant psychiatrist, Delhi, says, “There are various definitions given to explain incestuous rape. However, incest is usually defined as sexual contact between persons who are so closely related that their marriage is illegal (e.g., parents and children, uncles/aunts and nieces/nephews). An incestuous rape would be when such a sexual relationship is carried out by force, without the consent of one person. Child sexual abuse often comes to light when childhood histories are explored and in most cases the perpetrator is a known person who is close to the family or inside the family.”

The deathly beast of incest covers every strata of society, contrary to common belief that it proliferates in slums and ghettos because of penury and confined spaces. Clinical psychologist Narendra Kinger has treated cases involving prominent business families. He says there are children being abused by the father, a trusted uncle or aunt, family driver or servant. The abuse can go on for long periods.

“The only thing the molester or rapist needs is access to the child, and the absence of suspicion if not implicit trust. In one case, the victim had written graphic details of the abuse in her personal diary, which the mother knew existed, but did not pry into on grounds of invading the child’s privacy. Sometimes, a twisted mind may even interpret the silence as consent,” says Kinger. “The curious paradox of ‘family honour’ is used as a political strategy to engineer and sustain a cover-up in affluent families. Relatives try to keep up the pretense of a happy household even as they intimidate or hush the child into submission,” says journalist Bella Jaisinghani.

Past Cases

On March 28, 1986, 14-year-old Noorjehan was choked to death by her father. Her mother was away at work and she was studying at home when her father tried to molest her.

In April 1986, Kadar Mistry was caught red-handed by his neighbour while raping his daughter.

In August 2006, the Nala Sopara police arrested Satish Chaurasia for sexually abusing his daughter and subsequently getting her pregnant. Chaurasia is reported to have raped his daughter whenever his wife left home for work. The matter came to light when Chaurasia tried to get the foetus aborted.

The same year, the Tarapur police arrested Nitin Raul (45) for raping his foster daughter. The 13-year-old victim became pregnant but the abuse continued.

In August 2008, the Virar police arrested Rajendra Yadav (29) for molesting his 12-year-old niece during a game of hide-and-seek.

Ujwala’s (30) has vague memories of a young servant abusing her sexually when she was three. At that time, she did not understand what was happening. But since it hurt her physically, she decided to confide in her mother. But her mother brushed it aside and did not do a thing about it. This has had such a traumatic effect on the girl that she even refuses therapy because she does not feel she needs help! “My world cracked up at that moment since, like all children, I thought my parents were God!”

Eleven-year-old Raja acts as if he is 24. He was sexually abused by his uncle since he was five. The horrified child complained to his parents only to be rebuffed with disgust and disbelief. Since then, lacking any catharsis, he has withdrawn into himself. He feels like the perpetual outsider in school, since none of the other children can relate to his experience. They think he is peculiar and ignores him. “The rejection by his parents who accused him of lying has caused a mental block in the boy. The systematic abuse by his uncle for which Raja blames himself has led to his alienation and lack of self-worth. He has considered suicide many times,” says psychiatrist Dr. Chandrika Narayan.

The most tragic case is that of 14-year-old Naseema. Her father raped her three times because of the superstitious belief that he would be cured of his STD if he had sex with a virgin who had not attained puberty. The heinous act did not cure him but infected the girl instead.
When the father learnt of the daughter’s affliction, he bore no guilt or remorse. He was furious and sold the ‘expendable’ girl to a brothel.

Naseema’s mother and brothers could do nothing to save her. She was later rescued by a NGO from the brothel but by then, she was too sick with the disease and had to be placed under intensive care at a Mumbai hospital.

Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome

Over the past decade, psychologists and psychiatrists have tried to explore the reasons why child sexual abuse happening within the family takes so long to uncover and why many cases remain suppressed forever, resulting in life-long trauma in the child victim of incest.
In a recent televised crime serial, a little girl who was being persistently abused sexually by her step-father, had no complaints. When finally, she was discovered suffering from an infectious ailment, the facts stunned the doctors who were treating her, the paramedical staff, the police and lastly, her own mother.

Surprisingly, other than the physical pain and injuries she was suffering from, the little girl of nine had no complaints. She seemed to be quite content being close to her step-father. She said the father explained to her that this was their secret of expressing love for each other that was not to be shared with anyone else! In other words, she had no idea that she was being subjected to severe sexual abuse since the age of five!

Ronald C. Summit, M.D. in his scholarly paper The Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome explains this as “secondary trauma in the crisis of discovery” experienced by the child victim of sexual incest. According to Summit, “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 reason why the child, even when it suspects that something is not right about the way he/she is being treated by an elder relative within the family, the child is afraid of confiding in anyone else firstly because the perpetrating adult vows the child into secrecy and the power relations between the child and the elder person instills fear in the victim. The fear stems from what will happen if he/she were to disclose this treatment to someone else – a sister, brother, mother, or anyone else close to the victim.
The fear of not being believed even if the child were to take its problems to another elder is another major reason that prevents it from disclosure.

So, the torture continues unabated, increasing the confidence in the perpetrator with every passing day of abuse.

Let us look closely into this fear. If a ‘respectable, reasonable” adult is accused of perverse, assaultive behaviour by an uncertain, shaken, nervous, emotionally distraught child, most adults he child confides in will react with total disbelief and shock. This increases feelings of both vulnerability to further and continuous abuse of the accusing child on the one hand and on the other, the rejection results in the child withdrawing itself into a cocoon of further secrecy, complete silence and “accommodation” of something that cannot be changed.

Summit goes on to argue that victims looking back are usually more embittered toward those who rejected their pleas than towards the one who initiated the sexual abuse. When no adult intervenes to acknowledge the reality of the abusive experience or to fix responsibilities on the offending adult, the child’s tendency to deal with the trauma as an intrapsychic event is reinforced and this finally leads to fill the child victim with a monstrous apparition of guilt, self-blame, pain and rage.

Image credit; TheCitizen


Parental tyranny and torture is multifaceted and has several dimensions. It can be insidious, as in the D.H.Lawrence novel Sons and Lovers, where the mother’s obsessive love for her sons Paul and William cripples their adult life. They are unable to form satisfying relationships with the women they meet. Their mother assumes the role of a tyrant not because her love for them is excessive, but because it is fatally flawed, possessive and all-consuming. In his magnum opus,

The Remembrance of Things Past, Marcel Proust recalls a childhood spent vainly waiting for his parents to leave their guests in the living room to come kiss him goodnight. The opening, claustrophobic chapters sensitively evoke an infancy spent in mortal terror of his parents.
To sum up with Summit, “Acceptance and validation are crucial to the psychological survival of the victim.

A child molested by a father or other male in the role of parent and rejected by the mother is psychologically orphaned and almost defenseless against multiple harmful consequences. On the other hand, a mother who can advocate for the child and protect against re-abuse seems to confer on the child the power to be self-endorsing and to recover with minimum sequel”

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  • Written byShoma A. Chatterji

    Dr. Shoma A. Chatterji is a freelance journalist, film scholar and author based in Kolkata. She has 20 published titles, has won the National Award twice and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rotary Club of Kolkata Metro. She has done her post-doctoral research on cinema and has juried at national and international film festivals over time


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