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

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  • This study was funded by an interdisciplinary faculty research grant from the Schools of Psychology and Law at the University of New South Wales, HREC No. 083004, and additional research support to the first author from Charles Sturt University. We are grateful to the Justice Environments Network for allowing us access to their virtual jury pool. We extend thanks to Melissa Lewis for her expert legal assistance in creating the trial materials and to clinical psychologists Sharmila Betts, Karen Salmon, and Toni Single, who reviewed the expert psychological testimony for accuracy and realism.

Abstract

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. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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