Youth Services Law

Evaluating Reluctant Disclosures of Abuse

ChildBlameAuthors of a recent study in Child Maltreatment argue that when children are reluctant to disclose abuse or give inconsistent details, it does not always mean that their disclosures are not credible.  Rather, it may mean that investigators are biased against abuse allegations that do not conform to expected patterns.  The study found that most sexually abused children in the study had disclosed abuse before anyone began investigating, while most physically abused children disclosed only after investigators started asking questions.  Those findings indicated that investigators in sexual abuse cases rely more on disclosures than other evidence, while investigators in physical abuse cases relied more on other types of evidence.  The authors concluded,

In the future, studies attempting to determine children's willingness to disclose abuse should consider how the abuse was suspected in the first place, whether there was corroborative evidence, and how the corroborative evidence may have influenced the interview and the child's report.  Assertions that most abused children disclose abuse when questioned must be tempered in light of the fact that the most reluctant victims may be those least likely to be questioned about abuse and least likely to be substantiated as abused.

Attorneys handling these cases need to be aware of this active controversy about how to judge the credibility of a child's disclosure.  The authors' view currently is in the minority, but studies such as these will gain more adherents.

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