Credibility assessment in child sexual abuse investigations: A descriptive analysis

Eran P. Melkman, Irit Hershkowitz, Ronit Zur

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

A major challenge in cases of child sexual abuse (CSA) is determining the credibility of children's reports. Consequently cases may be misclassified as false or deemed ‘no judgment possible’. Based on a large national sample of reports of CSA made in Israel in 2014, the study examines child and event characteristics contributing to the probability that reports of abuse would be judged credible. National data files of all children aged 3–14, who were referred for investigation following suspected victimization of sexual abuse, and had disclosed sexual abuse, were analyzed. Cases were classified as either ‘credible’ or ‘no judgment possible’. The probability of reaching a ‘credible’ judgment was examined in relation to characteristics of the child (age, gender, cognitive delay, marital status of the parents,) and of the abusive event (abuse severity, frequency, perpetrator–victim relationship, perpetrator's use of grooming, and perpetrator's use of coercion), controlling for investigator's identity at the cluster level of the analysis. Of 1563 cases analyzed, 57.9% were assessed as credible. The most powerful predictors of a credible judgment were older age and absence of a cognitive delay. Reports of children to married parents, who experienced a single abusive event that involved perpetrator's use of grooming, were also more likely to be judged as credible. Rates of credible judgments found are lower than expected suggesting under-identification of truthful reports of CSA. In particular, those cases of severe and multiple abuse involving younger and cognitively delayed children are the ones with the lowest chances of being assessed as credible.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)76-85
Number of pages10
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
Volume67
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 May 2017
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Child sexual abuse
  • Credibility assessment
  • Forensic evaluation
  • Professional judgments

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