An evaluation of how evidence is elicited from complainants of child sexual abuse
Martine Powell, Nina Westera, Jane Goodman-Delahunty and Anne Sophie Pichler
Child sexual abuse is difficult to prosecute and has one of the highest attrition rates of all criminal offences. Part of the difficulty in prosecuting these cases is that offending is often hidden from public view, leaving only the complainants’ evidence to establish the defendants’ guilt beyond reasonable doubt. The ability of child sexual abuse complainants to give quality evidence is crucial for successful prosecution, but it can be problematic for complainants to give such evidence. For both child and adult complainants, a willingness to engage in the justice process, and the accuracy and usefulness of the evidence they give, can be affected by anxiety and stress, delays in the trial process and how professionals question them.
Over the past two decades, jurisdictions have attempted to address these concerns by introducing alternate measures and guidelines for eliciting evidence from child sexual abuse complainants. This report provides a comprehensive, holistic and contemporaneous picture of this process. Specifically, it examines:
the use and effectiveness of alternate measures
how complainants are questioned when evidence is elicited.
The researchers used a mixed method that involved conducting 17 studies using information from various sources. Criminal justice professionals (judges, prosecutors, defence lawyers and witness advisors) were interviewed and surveyed to provide a stakeholder perspective on issues and challenges. A large representative sample of prosecution case files, trial transcripts and police video interviews with complainants were analysed to determine trends across jurisdictions and demographic variables (such as age groups), and how measures are actually being administered. For these analyses, the Royal Commission nominated three representative Australian jurisdictions: NSW, Victoria and WA.