Assessing Children’s Credibility in Courtroom Investigations of Alleged Child Sexual Abuse: Suggestibility, Plausibility, and Consistency

Emily Denne, Colleen Sullivan, Kyle Ernest, Stacia N. Stolzenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

As children’s testimonies of child sexual abuse (CSA) often lack concrete evidence to corroborate a child’s claims, attorneys devote a substantial amount of time to establishing a child as credible during the course of a trial. Examining 134 CSA victim testimonies for children aged 5–17 (M = 12.48, SD = 3.34; 90% female), we explored how attorneys assess child credibility through specifically targeting children’s suggestibility/honesty, plausibility, and consistency. Results revealed that while prosecutors examine plausibility more often to establish credibility, defense attorneys focus their assessments on suggestibility/honesty and potential inconsistency. However, both attorneys asked many more questions about children’s consistency than any other area of potential credibility. Furthermore, while prosecutors ask proportionally more credibility-challenging questions of older children, the defense do not. These results suggest that prosecutors may be missing an opportunity to establish children as honest and consistent and elucidate a need to train attorneys on the implications of children’s inconsistencies, suggestibility, and plausible abuse dynamics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalChild Maltreatment
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - Jan 1 2019

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Sexual Child Abuse
Lawyers

Keywords

  • child sexual abuse
  • children’s consistency
  • children’s credibility
  • children’s testimony

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology

Cite this

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abstract = "As children’s testimonies of child sexual abuse (CSA) often lack concrete evidence to corroborate a child’s claims, attorneys devote a substantial amount of time to establishing a child as credible during the course of a trial. Examining 134 CSA victim testimonies for children aged 5–17 (M = 12.48, SD = 3.34; 90{\%} female), we explored how attorneys assess child credibility through specifically targeting children’s suggestibility/honesty, plausibility, and consistency. Results revealed that while prosecutors examine plausibility more often to establish credibility, defense attorneys focus their assessments on suggestibility/honesty and potential inconsistency. However, both attorneys asked many more questions about children’s consistency than any other area of potential credibility. Furthermore, while prosecutors ask proportionally more credibility-challenging questions of older children, the defense do not. These results suggest that prosecutors may be missing an opportunity to establish children as honest and consistent and elucidate a need to train attorneys on the implications of children’s inconsistencies, suggestibility, and plausible abuse dynamics.",
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