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The prosecution of child sexual abuse: A partnership to improve outcomes

Award Information

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Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2014, $498,333)

Statement of the problem: In collaboration with prosecutors' offices and mentors from the field, researchers at the University of Massachusetts Lowell propose research designed to increase knowledge of the criminal prosecution of child sexual abuse (CSA) cases, the characteristics of cases prosecuted, and the factors associated with case attrition. Designed to enhance current and foster new researcher practitioner collaborations, this research will identify barriers to prosecution of offenders and factors that contribute to successful outcomes while minimizing victim trauma. The attrition of CSA cases from the CJ system has been a concern to victims, practitioners and researchers for decades. In contrast to cases of sexual assault of adults, where considerable attrition occurs at earlier stages, reported child victim cases may experience most significant attrition at the prosecutorial stage. Past research indicates that less than 10% of CSA cases brought forward for prosecution go to trial. Gaps in knowledge of the processing of these cases point to a need to examine current cases to understand more about these challenges and the factors predictive of attrition including the extent to which victims and their families decide not to participate in trials and why. This study will document (1) case attrition; (2) the frequency with which CSA cases require the child to testify at multiple hearings, directly confront the alleged perpetrator, and experience harsh cross-examination; and (3) the factors that impact case outcomes. Methods: We propose a retrospective analysis (previous 5 years) of 500 CSA cases referred for prosecution in several counties. This research will identify factors (details about the alleged incident, victim/ victim family, perpetrator, evidence, prosecutorial decisions) that affect the trajectory and outcomes of cases and will lead to recommendations to improve outcomes for victims and successful prosecution of perpetrators. This project relies on a team of experienced researchers and a PI who has forged relationships with prosecutors to create a meaningful researcher/practitioner partnership. The Co-Investigator/Mentor has several decades of experience forming successful research/practice collaborations designed to identify key research questions and find answers useful to the field- a strength of this proposal. Our approach involves collaboration with practitioners to assist with interpreting findings and report writing. This will assure that materials useful for policy and practice will be widely disseminated. Implications: This study will contribute to scholarly and practice-oriented literature and understanding of CSA case attrition with the goal of increasing access to justice for victims and successful prosecution of perpetrators. ca/ncf
Date Created: September 16, 2014