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Going to Court: The Experience of Child Victims of Intrafamilial Sexual Abuse

NCJ Number
Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law Volume: 13 Issue: 4 Dated: (Winter 1988) Pages: 705-722
Date Published
18 pages
As part of a long-term study of the effect of child sexual abuse on victims' mental health, initial evaluations were conducted of 100 intrafamilial sexual abuse victims in North Carolina.
Five-month followup data were obtained on 76 of these children, 18-month followup data were obtained for 62, and observations were undertaken of 16 court proceedings involving 17 children. Overall, children showed improved mental health at 5-month followup. Children who testified in juvenile court were 20 times more likely to show a decrease in anxiety scores than were those without court experience. Children with pending criminal trials were 12 times less likely to have resolved symptoms of depression after 5 months than were those children whose cases had been adjudicated quickly or those whose cases were never prosecuted. Of 16 proceedings, 10 were in juvenile court; and 6 were in criminal court. While there was great variation in the management of these hearings, many showed the same stressful conditions: continuances or delays, failure to provide adequate information to the child's support figurers, lack of preparation and/or experience on the part of attorneys, lack of effective advocacy for the child, insufficient understanding of the capabilities of child witnesses, ineffective trial technique, confrontation with the perpetrator, and aggressive cross-examination. While many child advocates have proposed extensive procedural and evidentiary revisions to reduce the detrimental impact of court proceedings on child victims, many simple improvements would be less costly and controversial to implement. These include increased involvement of guardians ad litem, better preparation of the child for court, reduction of delays and continuances, and improved training of attorneys and judges. 29 references. (Author abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 1988