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Prosecution of Child Sexual Abuse Cases Involving Preschool-Aged Children: A Study of Swedish Cases from 2010 to 2014

Journal article
Authors Emelie Ernberg
Mikaela Magnusson
Sara Landström
Published in Journal of Child Sexual Abuse
Volume 27
Issue 7
Pages 832-851
ISSN 10538712
Publication year 2018
Published at Department of Psychology
Pages 832-851
Language en
Keywords Child sexual abuse, evidence, legal decision-making, preschoolers, prosecution
Subject categories Applied Psychology


Alleged child sexual abuse against preschool-aged children is often considered one of the most challenging cases for a prosecutor to handle. The aim of the current study was to examine differences between prosecuted and discontinued cases of alleged sexual abuse of preschool-aged children. Data from Swedish criminal cases of alleged sexual abuse of children ages 2–6 issued from 2010 to 2014 were analyzed (N = 130). Prosecuted cases were more likely to contain forensic evidence (documentation of abuse, corroborative DNA evidence, or a corroborative medical examination), or a confession from the suspect, while such evidence was not available in any discontinued case. Furthermore, cases where the child was older, where the prosecutor had decided to conduct an interview with the child, and where there was more than one alleged victim were more likely to be prosecuted. Factors that were associated with a decreased likelihood of prosecution were ongoing custody disputes between parents, foster care placements prior to the abuse, and if the report concerned a boy. Boys and younger children were also less likely to be interviewed. The results suggest that prosecution of sexual abuse cases involving preschool-aged children remains difficult and that there is room for improvements in these investigations.

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