abuse.”155 The counselor further testified that L.J.’s delay in reporting was not uncommon for
child abuse victims.156 The court held that the counselor’s testimony was relevant to explain
behavioral reactions to child abuse, which may be outside the jury’s common experience.157 His
testimony was also relevant to “counter the defense’s explanation of the complainant’s behavior
and to provide the jury with an alternative explanation.”158 The court further held that “[e]xpert
testimony on the post-assault behavior of a sexual assault victim is admissible in certain cases to
help explain the meaning of that behavior.”159
In Delaware, in Wheat v. State, Willie Wheat was convicted of raping his ten-year-old
stepdaughter.160 The two main issues in this case involved a delay in reporting and recantation.161
The victim testified that she recanted because her stepmother had scared her by making
threatening statements to her.162 The State introduced expert testimony from a clinical worker
from Intrafamily Sexual Abuse Treatment Program for the Children’s Bureau of Delaware.163 The
court permitted the worker to testify as an expert in the field of intrafamily sexual abuse.164 The
worker testified that:
[B]etween thirty percent and forty percent of children recant, alter, or otherwise
minimize their original allegations of sexual abuse, but that fewer than five
percent recant and maintain the altered statement. She stated that of the seventy-
five to eighty children whom she had treated or counseled, “about thirty” had
recanted at some point, but only three had recanted and maintained their
The Supreme Court of Delaware allowed this testimony because the child’s “behavior or
testimony is, to the average layperson, superficially inconsistent with the occurrence of a rape,
and is otherwise inadequately explained, thus requiring an expert’s explanation of its emotional
antecedents.”166 The court held that in cases with delayed reporting or recantation, expert
testimony can help explain why these may occur and the significance of the occurrences.167 This
holding was limited to cases with recantation or a delay in reporting “which, to average
laypeople, are superficially inconsistent with the occurrence of sexual abuse and which are
established as especially attributable to intrafamily child sexual abuse rather than simply stress or
trauma in general.”168
These cases using expert witness testimony to exemplify the importance that prosecutors
take time to get to know their victims. In Wheat, the child’s testimony about her stepmother
scaring her into recanting is critical information, without which, the recantation reflects poorly on
the victim. Behavioral acting out and issues with statements are not unlikely to occur. Prosecutors
need not immediately assume that the presence of these issues significantly weakens the case.
155 Id. at 916.
157 Id. at 918.
160 Wheat v. State, 527 A.2d 269, 270 (Del. 1987).
161 Id. at 270, 273.
162 Id. at 270–71.
163 Id. at 271.