Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 0(0), 1 – 23.
Type of Profession:
This study explored the role of delay in cases involving family member (stepfather) versus non-family member (next-door neighbor) defendants. Jurors’ perceptions of delayed disclosure may vary as a function of the closeness of the victim’s relationship to the defendant. Understanding how potential jurors react to these variables is of critical value for the courts and will advance our insight on the need for trial-level safeguards.
Across the world, cases of child sexual abuse (CSA) have been seen involving delayed disclosure on the part of child victims. Delayed disclosures may come months, years, or even decades after the original abuse was alleged to have occurred and can significantly influence the opinion of a jury on the victim’s credibility and the veracity of complaints. The goal of the current research study was to examine the effects of the length of time it took for a victim to disclose the abuse and the relationship between the victim and offender on the decisions of jurors.
Participants in the study included 425 adults who were recruited on-line, including a mix of college students and community members. Each read a mock trial summary describing an alleged incident of CSA between an adult male defendant and a seven-year-old female victim. Participants then rendered various case judgments. When length of delay was 10 months versus 1-day, mock jurors rendered fewer guilty verdicts and lower ratings of victim trustworthiness, believability, memory strength, and memory accuracy. Effects of length of delay varied as a function of the victim-perpetrator relationship, but only when the perpetrator was the victim’s next-door neighbor versus stepfather.
When the perpetrator was described in the mock trail summary to be the victim’s next-door neighbor, participants rated the likelihood of abuse as higher and the victim’s memory as stronger with shorter versus longer lengths of delay. Disclosure delay did not vary as a function of the victim-perpetrator relationship when the perpetrator was the victim’s stepfather. Findings have implications for trial-level safeguards (e.g., expert testimony) in CSA cases involving delayed disclosure.
(The expanded abstract is excerpted and adapted from the article cited above).