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Child Sexual Abuse - Legal Issues and Approaches

NCJ Number
J Bulkley; H A Davidson
Date Published
46 pages
This article is intended to give attorneys an introduction to child sexual abuse, its effects on victims, and offender characteristics, as well as to help lawyers intervene sensitively and skillfully in such cases.
Sexual abuse as discussed in this article is defined as 'any contacts or interactions between a child and other family member in a position of power or control over the child, where the child is being used for the sexual stimulation of the perpetrator or another person.' In a large percentage of incest cases, the offense is repeated over a period of time ranging from weeks to several years. Force or the threat of its use is rarely used; more often, the child is psychologically enticed by loyalty to, affection for, and dependence upon the adult caretaker. Incest (or any form of sexual victimization) is as devastating to a child's healthy development as any other type of child maltreatment. Some form of intervention is required in child abuse cases, but any decision to pursue court action should involve multidisciplinary input from child welfare workers, hospital staff, and sexual abuse treatment professionals, since court action may in some cases complicate the child's difficulties and hinder effective treatment of the family. Should court proceedings be deemed necessary, the court should make every effort to tailor proceedings so that the child will be relieved of traumatizing situations. Attorneys involved in child sexual abuse cases can improve the outcome through participation in an interdisciplinary team approach to the entire intervention process. These teams usually follow specific protocols and consider the child's need for safety and a healthy family life when making decisions. Alternatives for court procedures and cooperative case management and family treatment alternatives are described. Appended are discussions of legal processes in sex abuse cases, guidelines for interviews of child victims, a sample of interdisciplinary team protocol, and a flow chart for the child sexual abuse treatment program in San Jose, Calif. A total of 59 footnotes are provided.