Where Researchers Fear to Tread: Interpretive Differences Among Testifying Experts in Child Sexual Abuse Cases
S. Ceci and H. Hembrooke, eds., WHAT CAN (AND SHOULD) AN EXPERT TELL THE COURT? (American Psychological Association: Washington, DC)
16 Pages Posted: 8 Feb 1998 Last revised: 6 May 2019
Date Written: February 4, 2011
In this paper we address two areas of disagreement among researchers regarding the two most widely discussed areas of expert testimony in child sexual abuse cases: behavioral symptoms and the suggestibility of children. In the case of behavioral symptoms, observational research documenting symptoms among some non-abused children leads different researchers to different conclusions. Some believe that the existence of symptoms among non-abused children renders symptoms irrelevant, whereas others believe that symptoms may serve as evidence, but not conclusive evidence, that abuse has occurred. We argue that some symptoms (PTSD and sexualized behavior) are relevant evidence of abuse, but that experts should acknowledge the methodological limitations of observational research. In the case of suggestibility, laboratory research demonstrating that some children can be led to make false claims also leads researchers to disagree. We believe the laboratory research is often relevant in assessing the credibility of child witnesses, but that experts must acknowledge the potential differences between the research and the nature of interviewing and the dynamics of sexual abuse.
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