The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has released two research reports it commissioned on criminal justice issues that make significant findings about how child sexual abuse cases are handled in the criminal justice system.
An evaluation of how evidence is elicited from complainants of child sexual abuse conducted 17 studies using information from various sources to examine the use and effectiveness of alternative measures for eliciting evidence from child sexual abuse complainants.
In some of these studies, judges, prosecutors, defence lawyers and witness advisors were interviewed and surveyed to provide their perspective. Other studies analysed prosecution case files, trial transcripts and police video interviews with complainants to determine trends and evaluate how measures for eliciting evidence are actually being administered.
The overall findings from the 17 studies suggest that alternative measures are supported by legal professionals and are being used as a matter of course with child complainants. Five main areas were identified for improvement:
Overcome obstacles to using technology
Align police interviews with evidence-based practice guidance
Improve the quality of questioning in the courtroom
Increase the availability of alternate measures for adults
Reduce delays and streamline the prosecution process.
The other research study - The impact of delayed reporting on the prosecution and outcomes of child sexual abuse cases – examined how the criminal justice systems in New South Wales and South Australia deal with complaints of child sexual abuse reported to the police in childhood, compared with those in which the report is delayed until adulthood.
Researchers from the University of Sydney Law School examined data from police and court records in both jurisdictions, and conducted case file analysis and discussion with legal and other professionals in New South Wales.
Key findings included:
In both New South Wales and South Australia, most reports of child sexual abuse were made within three months of the incident, but there has been an increase in the number of reports made beyond 10 years after the incident.
The longest delays in reporting occurred where the alleged perpetrator was a person in a position of authority, such as a teacher, priest or foster carer. In these cases, the data shows that the majority of reports were made at least 10 years after the incident.
Victims of child sexual abuse are not disadvantaged by reporting in adulthood. For example, the proportion of incidents in New South Wales in which an identified person of interest was proceeded against was consistently highest for offences reported in adulthood.
The delayed reporting research also looked at appeals in child sexual abuse cases in New South Wales.
Royal Commission CEO Philip Reed said the research papers aimed to provide greater understanding in their areas of exploration.
“These research reports will significantly inform our upcoming criminal justice consultation paper. The reports examine the entire criminal justice experience, from the initial police report to the trial process and conviction rates,” Mr Reed said.
“The research on complainants’ evidence provides an invaluable insight into what really happens in court and how this can impact on a complainant’s ability to provide accurate and useful evidence.”
Read An evaluation of how evidence is elicited from complainants of child sexual abuse – by Martine Powell, Deakin University; Nina Westera, Griffith University; Jane Goodman-Delahunty, Charles Sturt University; and Anne Sophie Pichler, Deakin University.
Read The impact of delayed reporting on the prosecution and outcomes of child sexual abuse cases – by Judy Cashmore, Alan Taylor, Rita Shackel and Patrick Parkinson, University of Sydney Law School.