Testifying in criminal court: emotional effects on child sexual assault victims.

G. S. Goodman, E. P. Taub, D. P. Jones, P. England, L. K. Port, L. Rudy, L. Prado

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Child victims must cope not only with the emotional consequences of criminal acts but also with the potentially traumatizing effects of legal involvement. Dramatic increases in the reporting of child sexual abuse are bringing greater numbers of children into contact with the criminal justice system, raising fears that child victims of sex crimes will be further harmed by the courts. In the present study, the effects of criminal court testimony on child sexual assault victims were examined in a sample of 218 children. From this sample, the behavioral disturbance of a group of "testifiers" was compared to that of a matched control group of "nontestifiers" at three points following testimony: 3 months, 7 months, and after prosecution ended. At 7 months, testifiers evinced greater behavioral disturbance than nontestifiers, especially if the testifiers took the stand multiple times, were deprived of maternal support, and lacked corroboration of their claims. Once prosecution ended, adverse effects of testifying diminished. In courthouse interviews before and after testifying, the main fear expressed by children concerned having to face the defendant. Children who appeared more frightened of the defendant while testifying were less able to answer the prosecutors' questions; and later, after the cases were closed, they were more likely to say that testifying had affected them adversely. The two most pervasive predictors of children's experiences in the courtroom, however, were age and severity of abuse. Despite relevant laws, few innovative techniques were used to help the children testify. The results are discussed in relation to children's ability to cope with stressful situations, the interaction of the legal system with the child/family system, and debates about the need to protect child victims who testify in criminal court.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-142; discussion 143-161
JournalMonographs of the Society for Research in Child Development
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1992

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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