the well-being of the child. Prosecutors can only be a support person for the child before and after
trial. There are more limitations during trial, but even during trial, prosecutors can take measures
to make sure the child is not overwhelmed.
A. Using Expert Witnesses During Child Abuse Cases
Jurors judge the credibility of witnesses and ultimately determine if the witness’s
statement was believable. For prosecutors trying child abuse cases, proof beyond a reasonable
doubt may be a difficult standard to meet. Jurors bring their own biases into the courtroom about
how victims should conduct themselves following abuse.133 Reactions to abuse and trauma are
not predictable, nor are they consistent from person to person. Prosecutors must be prepared to
deal with victims as individuals, with the understanding that victims have their own individual
responses to abuse.134
While each victim will have his or her own individual reactions, there are some behaviors
that are quite common. Prosecutors must be prepared to handle delayed disclosures and recanting
victims.135 These issues are common to adult witnesses as well, but for children, these issues may
be even more pronounced because of their young age, their suggestibility, and their vulnerable
and underdeveloped coping skills.136 Prosecutors must know how to handle these issues, because
defense attorneys will attempt to use them to discredit a victim’s credibility.137
1. Know the Victim
A prosecutor cannot be effective in the courtroom if he or she does not know the victim.
If there are issues involving delayed disclosure, recantation, or inconsistent statements (or a
combination of the three), the prosecutor needs to find out why. Depending on the victim, he or
she may be able to explain the reasons for his or her behavior and may be able to articulate these
reasons to a jury.138
For example, there are numerous reasons why a child may not disclose abuse
immediately. Delayed disclosure is, in fact, the norm, not the exception.139 The perpetrator may
have threatened the child or the child might be embarrassed or ashamed about the abuse.140 A
child may not disclose the abuse because the perpetrator is someone he or she lives with or
someone whom he or she knows.141 The U.S. Department of Justice published a report in 2003,
finding that seventy-four percent of adolescents who experienced sexual abuse were familiar with
their abuser.142 A 2000 report found that 92.9 percent of abused children knew their abuser, with
133 JENNIFER G. LONG, NAT’L DIST. ATTORNEYS’ ASS’N, INTRODUCING EXPERT TESTIMONY TO EXPLAIN VICTIM BEHAVIOR IN
SEXUAL AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE PROSECUTIONS 8 (2007), available at
134 Id. at 1.
135 Paula Schaeffer et al., Children’s Disclosures of Sexual Abuse: Learning from Direct Inquiry, 35 CHILD ABUSE NEGLECT 343, 345
(2001), available at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0145213411000780; Lindsay C. Malloy et al., Filial
Dependency and Recantation of Sexual Abuse Allegations, 46 J. AM. ACAD. CHILD. ADOLESC. PYSCHIATRY 162 (2007), available at
136 Cunningham & Stevens, supra note 52, at 18.
137 Long, supra note 133, at 1.
138 Id. at 18.
139 Kamala London et al., Disclosure of Child Sexual Abuse: What Does Research Tell Us About the Ways that Children Tell?, 11
PSYCHOL. PUB. POL’Y & L. 194, 198 (2005); Mike McGrath & Carolyn Clemens, The Child Victim as a Witness in Sexual Abuse
Cases, 46 MONT. L. REV. 229, 230 (1985), available at
140 McGrath & Clemens, supra note 139, at 231.
141 R.L. Sjoberg & F. Lindblad, Delayed Disclosures and Disrupted Communication During Forensic Investigation of Child Sexual
Abuse: A Study of 47 Corroborated Cases, 91 ACTA PAEDIATR 1391, 1394 (2002), available at
142 Youth Victimization: Prevalence and Implications, U.S. DEP’T OF JUSTICE 5 (2003), available at