Enhancing the credibility of complainants in child sexual assault trials: the effect of expert evidence and judicial directions.

Research paper by Jane J Goodman-Delahunty, Anne A Cossins, Kate K O'Brien

Indexed on: 27 Nov '10Published on: 27 Nov '10Published in: Behavioral Sciences & the Law


This study investigated the knowledge and misconceptions of jury-eligible citizens about children's reliability as witnesses and responses to child sexual assault (CSA), and examined the influence of expert evidence and judicial directions in challenging common misconceptions. Community volunteers (N = 130) read one of five versions of a simulated jury trial, and completed a pre- and post-trial questionnaire to provide measures of their knowledge of children's responses to sexual abuse, perceptions of victim credibility, and verdict. Results revealed that endorsement of CSA misconceptions negatively impacted ratings of complainant credibility and verdicts. Judicial directions provided before the child complainant testified enhanced complainant credibility, which in turn predicted guilty verdicts. Comparisons of the effectiveness of two procedural legal mechanisms to manage juror misconceptions and improve knowledge about CSA provide guidance for future researchers investigating ways to increase fairness in cases of CSA.