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Child sexual abuse and the court system

Child sexual abuse and the court system
Child sexual abuse and the court system

This dissertation presents the findings of a Personal Research Project undertaken by the author in Hampshire, between 1997 and 1999. The study is a qualitative one, which seeks the personal accounts of young people testifying in Crown Courts concerning sexual abuse. Interviews were conducted with sixteen young witnesses, aged from 7 to 17 at the time of their court appearances, who had testified at the trial of their own alleged sexual abuse perpetrator. Despite a quantity of recent juridical reforms intended to improve children's court expenecnes during testimony against defendants, which led to increased numbers of prosecutions, conviction rates remain low, particularly for indictments against alleged perpetrators of sexual abuse. Previous quantitative evaluations have considered the effects of the changes, but small amounts of research only have taken place concerning the impact of the judicial process on the young people themselves. Anecdotal evidence, however, suggests that the court process has major negative consequences upon children. This investigation, regarded by the author to be a feminist study, was carried out using a grounded, reflexive approach. Young people were approached via the Court Witness Service. Those content to participate were personally interviewed in depth by the author about their experiences of giving evidence; their feelings and impacts upon them of testifying, and the changes in the process they would welcome. Data collected evidenced participants' major trauma as a result of their court treatment, often occasioned as a result of the mode of defence questioning. Poor practice emerged as a consequence of weak advocacy by the prosecution, inadequate court organisation, delays in listing, unforeseen adjournments and legal argument - as well as resulting from pre-court investigations. Young witnesses' personal anxieties and lack of knowledge concerning the evidence process all contributed to generally poorly rated experiences. Predominantly, the after effects of the process continued negatively for youngsters, and a substantial minority self-harmed significantly as a result of court traumas. Data analyses suggest a feminist (post) post structuralist approach may be helpful in identifying, modelling and explaining various power differentials which embroil young females and males in the power struggles inherent in criminal indictments against more powerful abusers. Study results suggest a need for major reform: a requirement for best quality court practice, as well as for significant attitudinal changes toward young people, leading to anti-discriminatory practice which addresses the term coined as 'youthism' as a major oppressive practice, targetting anyone who is 'not-man'. A range of issues concerning child-centredness, power and sexuality is discussed, and their impacts upon justice is argued. As a result of the study, the development of theoretical perspectives concerning young people's evidence giving has been attempted, which may loosely be described as feminist post-post-structuralist approaches. The accompanying theoretical discussion may go some way to account for the impact upon children, of the justice system and the criminal court process.

University of Southampton
Chitson, Fleur
fc13bd38-e0d2-4bb8-a25b-0331c2d52b39
Chitson, Fleur
fc13bd38-e0d2-4bb8-a25b-0331c2d52b39

Chitson, Fleur (2001) Child sexual abuse and the court system. University of Southampton, Doctoral Thesis.

Record type: Thesis (Doctoral)

Abstract

This dissertation presents the findings of a Personal Research Project undertaken by the author in Hampshire, between 1997 and 1999. The study is a qualitative one, which seeks the personal accounts of young people testifying in Crown Courts concerning sexual abuse. Interviews were conducted with sixteen young witnesses, aged from 7 to 17 at the time of their court appearances, who had testified at the trial of their own alleged sexual abuse perpetrator. Despite a quantity of recent juridical reforms intended to improve children's court expenecnes during testimony against defendants, which led to increased numbers of prosecutions, conviction rates remain low, particularly for indictments against alleged perpetrators of sexual abuse. Previous quantitative evaluations have considered the effects of the changes, but small amounts of research only have taken place concerning the impact of the judicial process on the young people themselves. Anecdotal evidence, however, suggests that the court process has major negative consequences upon children. This investigation, regarded by the author to be a feminist study, was carried out using a grounded, reflexive approach. Young people were approached via the Court Witness Service. Those content to participate were personally interviewed in depth by the author about their experiences of giving evidence; their feelings and impacts upon them of testifying, and the changes in the process they would welcome. Data collected evidenced participants' major trauma as a result of their court treatment, often occasioned as a result of the mode of defence questioning. Poor practice emerged as a consequence of weak advocacy by the prosecution, inadequate court organisation, delays in listing, unforeseen adjournments and legal argument - as well as resulting from pre-court investigations. Young witnesses' personal anxieties and lack of knowledge concerning the evidence process all contributed to generally poorly rated experiences. Predominantly, the after effects of the process continued negatively for youngsters, and a substantial minority self-harmed significantly as a result of court traumas. Data analyses suggest a feminist (post) post structuralist approach may be helpful in identifying, modelling and explaining various power differentials which embroil young females and males in the power struggles inherent in criminal indictments against more powerful abusers. Study results suggest a need for major reform: a requirement for best quality court practice, as well as for significant attitudinal changes toward young people, leading to anti-discriminatory practice which addresses the term coined as 'youthism' as a major oppressive practice, targetting anyone who is 'not-man'. A range of issues concerning child-centredness, power and sexuality is discussed, and their impacts upon justice is argued. As a result of the study, the development of theoretical perspectives concerning young people's evidence giving has been attempted, which may loosely be described as feminist post-post-structuralist approaches. The accompanying theoretical discussion may go some way to account for the impact upon children, of the justice system and the criminal court process.

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Published date: 2001

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 467063
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/467063
PURE UUID: a3aa1126-620e-4fe4-a031-c1c45b4bad83

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Date deposited: 05 Jul 2022 08:10
Last modified: 23 Jul 2022 01:16

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Contributors

Author: Fleur Chitson

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