A historical comparison of Australian lawyers' strategies for cross-examining child sexual abuse complainants
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Many child sexual abuse complainants find the adversarial trial process so distressing that they say they would never report abuse again. Their concerns stem largely from cross-examination, in which the lawyer acting for the accused attempts to discredit their evidence. We examined whether—and if so, how—Australian defense lawyers’ approaches to cross-examining child sexual abuse complainants have changed meaningfully over the past 60 years. To do this, we systematically evaluated cases that were prosecuted in the 1950s, comparing them to a matched set of cases from the turn of the twenty-first century. Despite the intervening law reforms designed to improve complainants’ experience in court, we found that, relative to their historical counterparts, contemporary child complainants of sexual abuse are actually subjected to far lengthier cross-examinations involving a much broader range of strategies and associated tactics. These findings have important implications for future legal practice and reform, and for the way in which these are evaluated.
Child Abuse & Neglect
Criminology not elsewhere classified