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Prosecutors' reflections about sexually abused children and their ability to stand trial

Conference contribution
Authors Emelie Ernberg
Inga Tidefors
Sara Landström
Published in European Association of Psychology and Law (EAPL) + World Conference, August 4-7 2015, Nuremberg
Publication year 2015
Published at Department of Psychology
Language en
Keywords Child Sexual Abuse, Prosecution, Legal Decision Making
Subject categories Psychology, Applied Psychology


Child sexual abuse (CSA) cases are difficult to investigate and prosecute; something that especially holds true when the victim is a small child. The present study investigated prosecutors’ perceptions of working with CSA cases involving small children (ages 6 or under). Nine prosecutors who had specialized in working with child cases were either interviewed about their experiences, or discussed them in themed focus group sessions. Three themes were identified: 1) A credible child, 2) an unheard child and 3) an exploited and abandoned child. The findings showed that most of the time, children who disclosed abuse were perceived as credible by the prosecutors. Factors that could enhance or decrease the credibility of a child in the eyes of the court were discussed. Eliciting good quality testimonies from children was seen as difficult, both because the children themselves might be reluctant to disclose the abuse, and because of shortcomings on part of the interviewer. Children were seen as disadvantaged in the legal process, and their testimonies were described as being held at unrealistic standards. Additional evidence was described as vital in order to corroborate the child’s testimony, and different types of corroborating evidence were discussed. In addition to being victims of sexual abuse, children who figured in CSA investigations were described as potentially being used as a weapon in a custodial dispute, or as sometimes being abandoned by the non-abusive parent. These results highlight issues and complications in investigating and prosecuting CSA cases.

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