Child Sexual Abuse: How to Move to a Balanced and Rational Approach to the Cases Everyone Abhors

52 Pages Posted: 15 Jan 2011 Last revised: 3 Feb 2011

Date Written: January 13, 2011


Society as a whole and participants in the criminal justice system have great difficulty dealing with allegations of child sexual abuse in a coherent and consistent fashion. Our social and judicial reactions are erratic. On the one hand, for many years there was a pervasive disbelief that individuals in positions of reverence and respect, such as priests and scout leaders, could possibly harm the children entrusted to their care. Perhaps as a result of the collective guilt caused by disbelieving the true victims of this abuse, in recent years the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction, to an unwavering conviction that a young child is incapable of fabricating a story of abuse, even when the tale of mistreatment is inherently incredible.

The pendulum has swung from a reluctance to believe any charge by a child against an adult to a non-reflective embrace of every accusation made, no matter how implausible or fanciful. Therefore, a more exhaustive analysis is required to highlight the unique challenges posed by these cases. As judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys, we must learn to deal with the unique challenges presented by cases involving allegations of child sexual abuse so that the innocent are protected, whether those innocents are the children, the accused, or both. This article will highlight some of the difficulties posed by these cases and provide suggestions for ameliorating them.

This article focuses on how prosecutors, judges, defense attorneys and police investigators must all take responsibility for bridging this systemic gap. Each individual can utilize his or her unique role to ensure that proper procedures are followed to protect victims and the wrongly accused. Practical solutions and guidance is offered from the investigation stage through the trial process.

Keywords: Child Sexual Abuse, Child Molestation, Child Witnesses, Judges, Prosecutors, Defense Attorneys, Trial Practice, Trial Tactics, Cross-Examination, Voir Dire, Trial Techniques, Criminal Law

Suggested Citation

Shanks, Laurie, Child Sexual Abuse: How to Move to a Balanced and Rational Approach to the Cases Everyone Abhors (January 13, 2011). American Journal of Trial Advocacy, Vol. 34, No. 3, Spring 2011, Available at SSRN:

Laurie Shanks (Contact Author)

Albany Law School ( email )

80 New Scotland Avenue
Albany, NY 12208
United States

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