Disclosure of Child Sexual Abuse: A Review of Factors that Impact Proceedings in the Courtroom

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Skinner, GCM 

The act of disclosure is a key moment in the process of bringing alleged child sexual abuse (CSA) to court and is, therefore, a frequent point of contention for lawyers. Yet no article has systematically addressed the current applied psychological literature regarding the act of disclosure by alleged CSA victims relating to the courtroom process. This is a survey-style literature review, which seeks to establish the factors necessary for academics, practitioners, jurors and policy makers alike to study in order to be fully informed about the domain of CSA disclosure both before and then inside the courtroom.Children often delay disclosing for a long period and this may be affected by specific case characteristics. Lawyers question children about their disclosures in very different ways with both the defence and prosecution utilizing developmentally inappropriate questioning methods to advance their respective arguments. Children also respond differently to the prosecution and defence, with variations in both content and detail provided within their answerA challenge exists to be able to balance the securing of accurate testimony – especially given developmental differences – with the freedom of defendants to challenge such crucial evidence in the manner of their choice. This article highlights some of the implications of the current system which can effect any optimum assessment of the important process of victim disclosure, both outside and within the courtroom.

child sexual abuse, developmental psychology, law, maltreatment, public policy, disclosure
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Crime Psychology Review
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Taylor & Francis
Wellcome Trust (103343/Z/13/A)
This research was made possible by a Medical Humanities New Investigator Award from the Wellcome Trust (Grant WT103343MA).