2014 - 2019

Principal Investigator: Stephanie Block, Ph.D.

Co-Investigator: Linda M. Williams, Ph.D.

Funded by: National Institute of Justice

This was a collaborative research project designed to increase knowledge of the criminal prosecution of child sexual abuse (CSA) cases, the characteristics of cases that go forward to prosecution, and the factors associated with case attrition. This project was designed to enhance current and foster new researcher-practitioner collaborations and research designed to understand how to increase the successful prosecution of perpetrators while minimizing trauma to victims and families. In conjunction with the prosecutor’s offices and community partners, the research team identified barriers to prosecution.

The research involved a retrospective analysis (previous 5 years) of 500 CSA cases referred for prosecution in several counties to examine how those cases progressed through the system. The study took a child-development and justice-system approach to understand prosecution and the obstacles that lead to high attrition rates.

A case study design captured multiple models of prosecutorial response to CSA in a real-world context, examined how details about the alleged incident, the victim, the perpetrator, the child’s family, evidentiary factors, and prosecutorial decisions affect the trajectory and outcomes of cases. The approach involved collaboration with practitioners to assist with the interpretation of findings and report writing and to assure that materials were useful for policy and practice.

JGBVR role:

The goal of this NIJ funding initiative was to support criminal justice research and evaluation activities that included a researcher-practitioner partnership component and lead to better criminal justice policy, practice, and research, including for the participating practitioner partner. As such, it was designed to develop the principal investigator’s skill and interest in creating and sustaining criminal justice researcher-practitioner partnerships (all in addition to providing sound knowledge that assisted criminal justice practitioners and policymakers.) Thus, a key role for the JGBVR initiative and the participation of Dr. Williams was to mentor Dr. Block in developing justice system research and needed practitioner and community partnerships.


This study contributed to scholarly and practice-oriented literature and the scientific understanding of CSA case attrition with the goal of increasing access to justice for victims. The researchers reviewed 500 reports of CSA to determine which reports resulted in prosecution and which cases made it to trial. The study also examined the characteristics of cases that dropped out of the criminal justice system along the way. Dr. Williams and Dr. Block found that less than 10 percent of the cases resulted in a conviction or guilty plea. The researchers identified concerns with victim competency and credibility, cooperation, and evidentiary issues. 



This project was supported by Award No. 2014-Mu-MU-0001awarded to the University of Massachusetts Lowell by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication/program/exhibition are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Justice.

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More about the Prosecution of Child Sexual Abuse

Conferences and Presentations
  • Block, S.D., Williams, L.M., Shockley, K.L., Johnson, H, & Widaman, K.F. Seeking Justice for Child Victims of Sexual Abuse - Understanding Prosecutorial Outcomes. Presented at the ISPCAN Caribbean Conference 2018, Montego Bay, Jamaica. (December)
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