Schmidt (1983; 1992) published two articles describing Child Sexual Abuse
Accommodation Syndrome (CSAAS). In his first article he asserted that CAAS consisted of five
main components 1) Secrecy 2) Helplessness 3) Entrapment and Accommodation 4) Delayed
Unconvincing Disclosure 5) Retraction. In his second article, Schmidt (1982) described what he
saw as abuses of the CSAAS. He was particularly concerned that the CAAS was being misused
in court to "diagnose" whether or not abuse has occurred. This writer frequently sees "experts"
for the prosecution equating CSAAS with a defendant alleged to have committed child sexual
abuse. In particular, delayed disclosure is equated with validity of child sexual abuse claims.
While the syndrome has received high rates of attention in legal settings, including two highly
critical reviews, the entirety of its issues have not been expanded upon. (Coden, Bruell, Ceci +
Shwan, 2005; Coden, Bruell, Wright, Ceci, 2008). Bento (2012) went so far as to state CAAS
should be considered as an example of "junk science" and should not be used in legal settings.
Juries are misled by only a part of the true picture of CAAS being presented. Schmidt (1983)
introduced CSAAS by claiming that accusers feel secondary trauma when their disclosure is
viewed by significant individuals in their lives as a lie. Hunt asserts that secrecy creates fear in
the child and the false promise of safety. In the secondary category of helplessness, Schmidt
related that children are required to be obedient and appropriate with any adult entrusted with
their care. His assertion is that perpetrators are often known to their victims. Thus, children are
helpless against allegedly trustworthy adults. In entrapment and accommodation, Hunt represents
that children hold themselves at fault for painful sexual events and that the child feels obligated
to perpetrators. Schmidt argues that most ongoing sexual abuse is never disclosed and if family
conflict triggers disclosure it is usually after years of continuing sexual abuse. This completely
neglects to note that cumulative traumatic events in the form of PTSD result in acute anxiety
impairing daily functioning. Schmidt notes that even when a child discloses child sexual abuse,
he or she is likely to recant due to family dynamics such as seeing the family disrupted.
Ten years later, Schmidt (1993) published a response to what he described as distortion
and misuse of CSAAS in the Courts. (Drohan and Bento, 2002) notes that Schmidt attested that
CSAAS posed a threat to defense arguments that legitimate victims would fight back and that
there are false complaints of sexual abuse.
As with any "syndrome" used to support child sexual abuse complaints in the courts,
there are problems with experimental design. Lordn, Buuck, Wright and Ceci (2008) argued
against research used in support of CSAAS. They questioned the representations of samples of
children in forensic interviews, reliability of memory recall data and questionable abuse status.
Evidence based interview protocols that lack leading questions yield high rates of disclosure
(85%) lending support to the notion that denial is not common in substantiated abuse cases. (London et al, 2008). These same authors note that misinformation may stem from false
disclosure elicited by highly suggestive interviewing techniques. Drohan and Bento (2012) note
that Brodley and Wood (1996) noted disclosures of sexual abuse in 234 sexual abuse cases in
CPS and observed recantation in only 4% of cases. Of the 4%, only 1/2 who recanted did so in
response to pressure from a caretaker.
The term "CSAAS syndrome" noted by (O'Dohne and Bento 2012) is an imprecise term.
They acknowledge that there is no clinical methodology to assess typical "valid" claims from
those that are invalid. Schmidt (1992) himself notes that the intent of CSAAS used in court
testimony is not to prove but to refute his thesis which produced endorsement of delayed or
incomplete disclosure. Drohan and Bento (2012) note that Schmidt failed to provide empirical
evidence that there is an aggregate to be treated as a group. There is no operational definition of
what is meant by a "delay" in reporting.
Schmidt does not specify if CSAAS appears to apply to all children who are sexually
abused. To boys? Girls? What age range? None of the variables are specified by Schmidt.
Long-Term Memory in Adults Remembering Sexual Abuse 20 Years Later
Goldfarb et al (2019) state that recent research confirms the possibility of false memories
of childhood sexual encounters (Badanz, Slaver & Goodman, 1990; Liddonfield, 2015; Loftus,
1996). Goldfarb et al (2019) state that memories of highly emotional events are less susceptible
to forgetting. However, one must take into account that memories are a constructive process.
Individuals make source errors, viz, erroneously recalling characteristics of another situation.
Imagination inflation refers to a finding that imagining an event which never happened can
increase confidence that it actually occurred. Goldfarb et al (2019) note that there is
disagreement about the extent of forgetting and errors in recall of information. There is also the
phenomenon of suggestibility, especially with children, and the effect of suggestion and leading
and suggestive investigative interviews on memory. "Recovered" memories from sessions with
therapists are yet another source of memory contamination. Singer and Wixtel (2006) note that as
the time between an event and a memory increases, individual differences will be evident in an
individual adopting a conservative as opposed to liberal response strategy, which may in turn
increase suggestibility. Memories also decay over time and are reconstructed and subject to
Contribution of PTSD and Depression to Errors in Reporting Events
Some investigators report that maltreatment history and/or PTSD symptomology are
associated with increased accuracy of recall of abuse (Alexander et al 2005; Eisen, Goodman,
Gin, Davis, & Crayton, 2007). However, it has also been proposed that individuals with
trauma-related psychopathology such as PTSD or depression are more likely to err in reporting
events (Otgaar et al 2017, Windmann & Kruger, 1998).
What is not addressed by those who propose that trauma (PTSD) results in vivid images
of abuse and greater accuracy of memory is the phenomenon of dissociation which co-exists with
PTSD. Individuals in dissociative states are detached from their surroundings and report out of
body experiences. There is a disconnect of awareness, consciousness, and orientation to the
environment. Goldfarb et al (2019) reports that memory errors may be driven by mental health
symptomatology resulting from trauma, rather than by maltreatment itself (Eisen, 2007;
Goodman et al, 2016).
Gender differences in memory for emotional childhood events have been documented,
with males recalling fewer emotional childhood experiences (Daniels, 1999) compared to
females (Goldfarb et al, 2019) reports that such differences may be more likely for an emotional
event that is sexual in nature. As a consequence, males may be more reluctant than females to
remember and disclose sexual details thus increasing commission errors (Vlman and Filipas,
2005); (Widsom and Morris, 1997).
Effects of Repeated Interviews
Memory rehearsal via repeated interviews and conversations with others regarding an
event may reinstate memory but can also lead to erroneous memories (Gordon et al 2004; O, et al
2006) (Peter and Sara 2015; Peterson, Pardy, Tizzard-Drover and Warren 2005).
(Goldfarb et al 2019) reports that children who had been exposed to violence were
recovered from their homes and placed in a forensic hospital and had an anogenital examination
as part of the standardized forensic medical procedure, recalled the examination 29 years later.
However 30 of the subjects did not recall being at the hospital at all exhibiting a "lost memory".
They also reported that depression is associated with comparatively accurate memory of negative
childhood occurrences at least at 20 years later. Adult males were found to recall less than adult
females (Denis, 1999) including childhood sexual abuse. Males were reported as more likely to
exhibit a "lost memory" for being at the hospital, were less likely to report genital contact and
were more likely to make omission errors in answering specific questions. It was also found that
specific and misleading questions did not count as memory reports after 20 years. "False
memory" was not able to be investigated.
(Goldfarb's 2019) study has limited statistical power due to a small sample size (n = 30).
Court Limitation on Long-Accepted Child Abuse Theory
The New Jersey Supreme Court (August 2018) agreed with a lower court that until
aspects of the CAAS theory are well-defined and scientifically proven, that expert testimony
about these aspects should not be introduced as evidence. The Supreme Court noted a number of
shortcomings about the concepts of CAAS including labeling the theory as a syndrome, defining
the five behaviors with precision and defining how the behaviors related to each other. Chief Justice Stuart Rabner wrote "based on the record before the Court, we conclude that the CSAAS
(the Syndrome) does not satisfy a basic standard of admissibility - reliability - because it is not
generally accepted by the scientific community".
There are many problems with reliability and validity of the concepts of CSAAS.
Unfortunately it has been misused and misrepresented by some prosecutors and prosecution
experts and has been represented as being "associated" with the validity of claims of accusers.
However, this assessment is problematic. This is at the expense of defendants. The courts are in
the forefront of adversarial conflict and are entitled to evidence based research examining all
sides of issues rather than "junk science". Our justice system and a defendant's presumption of
innocence and civil rights under due process deserves no less.
Celik, Tahiroglu, and Avci (2008) relate that false allegations may occur because of
memory distortions or contamination. The phenomenon of imagination inflation occurs when an
individual commits a source error, viz, is erroneous in identifying the situation and circumstances
of what they are recalling. The individual then embellishes and adds on to the erroneous source
and attendant memory and believes that it is true. Celik, et al (2008) also note that recurrent and
close-ended questions may result in recantations and/or false allegations, especially those made
to the police and the Courts. The authors also note that all evaluations of psychosexual factors
may be more valuable than examining any physical findings or psychiatric symptoms or
disorders in children who have disclosed sexual abuse. In their research, they discovered that
recanting cases must be followed for at least one year with multidisciplinary facilities such as
social services, legal procedures, and child psychiatrists. They note that additionally recounting
disclosure rates mostly focus on forensic samples rather than general population. Recanting
disclosure rates, they note, are still a controversial issue. They recommend that further studies
should evaluate recantation rates in high risk populations as follow up.
This examiner has frequently encountered forensic interview techniques that do not
adhere to the Gold Standard NICHD interview protocols articulated by Michael Lamb, PhD.
close ended interview techniques such as, "Where did he touch you?", "What else did he do to
you?", are suggestive, tainted and the research reveals high rates of errors in information given.
Moreover, children are very suggestive. Many individuals are acquiescent to authority and tell
law enforcement what they think they want to hear. Another source of error is repetitive
interviews. Information becomes increasingly distorted as accusers are interviewed by parents,
investigators, law enforcement, etc. Celik et al (2008) also notes that experts need to be aware of
children who may show a tendency to recant due to their psychosexual backgrounds.