Challenging the Credibility of Alleged Victims of Child Sexual Abuse in Scottish Courts
23 Psychology, Public Policy & Law 200-210 (2017)
13 Pages Posted: 6 Dec 2016 Last revised: 3 May 2017
Date Written: May 2, 2017
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.
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