CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Szojka et al. on Challenging the Credibility of Child Victims

Zsofia Szojka, Samantha J. Andrews, Michael E. Lamb, Stacia N. Stolzenberg and Thomas D. Lyon (University of London, University of Cambridge, University of Cambridge, Arizona State University (ASU) - School of Criminology & Criminal Justice and University of Southern California - Gould School of Law) have posted Challenging the Credibility of Alleged Victims of Child Sexual Abuse in Scottish Courts (Forthcoming, Psychology, Public Policy & Law) on SSRN. Here is the 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.

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