Uncertainty and misconceptions about child sexual abuse: Implications for the criminal justice system

A Cossins, Jane Goodman-Delahunty, K O'Brien

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


Recent amendments to the uniform evidence legislation in Australia mean that it will be possible for prosecutors to call expert opinion evidence to bolster the credibility of child complainants in child sexual assault (CSA) trials. Yet little is known about the extent of the common beliefs and misconceptions in the Australian population about child sexual abuse and the degree of discord between their beliefs and what the research literature shows. A survey investigated the knowledge and misconceptions of 659 laypeople about children's memory, reliability, suggestibility and children's responses to sexual abuse, and explored demographic differences in child sexual abuse misconceptions in an Australian jury-eligible sample. Reported here are the first published results on the perceptions and beliefs of Australian citizens regarding factors that influence the outcomes in CSA cases. An important contribution was significant findings of extensive uncertainty regarding these topics. Results showed that gender, age and educational attainment were associated with the endorsement of misconceptions about CSA cases. Topics that expert evidence can address to remedy these knowledge deficits were identified.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)435-452
Number of pages18
JournalPsychiatry, Psychology and Law
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2009


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