Skip to main content
Article
102. Attorneys’ questions and children’s responses referring to the nature of sexual touch in child sexual abuse trials.
Child Maltreatment (2023)
  • Zsofia A Szojka, University of Southern California Law
  • Nika Moussavi
  • Cara Burditt, University of Southern California Law School
  • Thomas D. Lyon, University of Southern California Law School
Abstract
Eliciting clear descriptions of sexual body parts and abusive touch in child sexual abuse trials is challenging because of children’s immaturity and embarrassment. This study examined references to sexual body part knowledge and sexual touch in attorneys’ questions and 5- to 10-year-old children’s responses (N = 2,247) in 113 child sexual abuse trials. Regardless of children’s age, attorneys and children primarily used unclear colloquialisms to refer to sexual body parts. Questions asking children to name sexual body parts elicited more uninformative responses than questions about the function of sexual body parts. In turn, questions about the function of sexual body parts were more likely to increase the specificity of body part identifications than questions about the location of sexual body parts. Attorneys predominantly used option-posing (yes-no and forced choice) questions to ask about sexual body part knowledge, the location of touch, the method or manner of touching, skin-to-skin contact, penetration, and how the touching felt. Generally, wh- questions were no more likely than option-posing questions to elicit uninformative responses, and consistently elicited more child-generated information.  The results question the legal assumption that children’s uninformative responses when testifying about sexual abuse should be overcome by asking option-posing questions.
Keywords
  • attorney's questions,
  • children's responses,
  • sexual touch,
  • child abuse,
  • child sexual abuse,
  • child forensic interview
Publication Date
Winter February 15, 2023
Citation Information
Szojka, Z.A., Moussavi, N., Burditt, C., & Lyon, T.D. (in press). Attorneys’ questions and children’s responses referring to the nature of sexual touch in child sexual abuse trials. Child Maltreatment.