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Article
83. Imprecision about body mechanics when child witnesses are questioned about sexual abuse.
Journal of Interpersonal Violence (In Press) (2021)
  • Colleen Sullivan, Arizona State University
  • Suzanne St. George, Arizona State University
  • Stacia N. Stolzenberg, Arizona State University
  • Shanna Williams, McGill University
  • Thomas D. Lyon
Abstract
In child sexual abuse cases, a central part of the child’s testimony is their description of the abuse episode. However, children often struggle to describe the body mechanics of abuse, and miscommunications are likely. The present study examined questions about the mechanics of abuse in trial transcripts (N = 63) to identify sources of miscommunication (N = 130) between attorneys and children (5 – 12 years old, M age at trial = 9 years old, SD = 2 years). Both attorneys and children used imprecise language, leading to miscommunication. Specifically, imprecise sexual terminology, the word “touch,” polarity items, broad open-ended questions, anaphora and ellipses, and “how” questions led to imprecision in attorneys’ questions. Imprecise questions often elicited under-informative answers. In response to under-informative answers, attorneys at times asked highly focused and leading questions. Implications and recommendations for future research on how best to elicit these details from children are discussed.
Keywords
  • Imprecision,
  • body mechanics,
  • child witnesses,
  • child sexual abuse,
  • child testimony
Publication Date
Winter February 1, 2021
Citation Information
Sullivan, C., St. George, S., Stolzenberg, S.N., Williams, S., & Lyon, T.D. (in press). Imprecision about body mechanics when child witnesses are questioned about sexual abuse. Journal of Interpersonal Violence