Challenging the Credibility of Alleged Victims of Child Sexual Abuse in Scottish Courts

23 Psychology, Public Policy & Law 200-210 (2017)

USC CLASS Research Paper No. CLASS16-38

USC Law Legal Studies Paper No. 16-42

13 Pages Posted: 6 Dec 2016 Last revised: 3 May 2017

See all articles by Zsofia Szojka

Zsofia Szojka

University of London

Samantha Andrews

University of Cambridge

Michael Lamb

University of Cambridge

Stacia Stolzenberg

Arizona State University (ASU) - School of Criminology & Criminal Justice

Thomas D. Lyon

University of Southern California Gould School of Law

Date Written: May 2, 2017

Abstract

This study examined the effects of credibility-challenging questions (n = 2,729) on 62 5- to 17-year-olds’ testimony in child sexual abuse cases in Scotland by categorizing the type, source, and content of the credibility-challenging questions defence lawyers asked and assessing how children responded. Credibility-challenging questions comprised 14.9% of all questions asked during cross-examination. Of defence lawyers’ credibility-challenging questions, 77.8% focused generally on children’s honesty, whereas the remainder referred to specific inconsistencies in the children’s testimony. Children resisted credibility challenges 54% of the time, significantly more often than they provided compliant responses (26.8%). The tendency to resist was significantly lower for questions focused on specific rather than general inconsistencies, and peripheral rather than central content. Overall, children resisted credibility challenges more often when the aim and content of the question could be understood easily. As this was a field study, the accuracy of children’s responses could not be assessed. The findings suggest that credibility-challenging questions that place unrealistic demands on children’s memory capacities (e.g., questions focused on peripheral content or highly specific details) occur frequently, and that juries should be made aware of the disproportionate effects of such questioning on the consistency of children’s testimony.

Suggested Citation

Szojka, Zsofia and Andrews, Samantha and Lamb, Michael and Stolzenberg, Stacia and Lyon, Thomas D., Challenging the Credibility of Alleged Victims of Child Sexual Abuse in Scottish Courts (May 2, 2017). 23 Psychology, Public Policy & Law 200-210 (2017), USC CLASS Research Paper No. CLASS16-38, USC Law Legal Studies Paper No. 16-42, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2880922

Zsofia Szojka (Contact Author)

University of London ( email )

Senate House
Malet Street
London, WC1E 7HU
United Kingdom

Samantha Andrews

University of Cambridge ( email )

Trinity Ln
Cambridge, CB2 1TN
United Kingdom

Michael Lamb

University of Cambridge ( email )

Trinity Ln
Cambridge, CB2 1TN
United Kingdom

Stacia Stolzenberg

Arizona State University (ASU) - School of Criminology & Criminal Justice ( email )

411 N. Central Avenue
Phoenix, AZ Arizona 85004
United States
6024960495 (Phone)

Thomas D. Lyon

University of Southern California Gould School of Law ( email )

699 Exposition Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90089
United States
213-740-0142 (Phone)
213-740-5502 (Fax)

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