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

Our Team
Stephanie Block, Ph.D., Principal Investigator
Linda M. Williams, Ph.D., Co-Investigator

The project: This is 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 is designed to enhance current and foster new researcher-practitioner collaborations and research designed to understand how to increase successful prosecution of perpetrators while minimizing trauma to victims and families. In conjunction with prosecutor’s offices and community partners, we are identifying barriers to prosecution and developing best practice guidelines.

The research involves a retrospective analysis (previous 5 years) of 500 CSA cases referred for prosecution in several counties to examine how these cases progress through the system. The study takes a child development and justice system approach to understand prosecution and the obstacles leading to high attrition rates. A case study design captures multiple models of prosecutorial response to CSA in real-world context, examines how details about the alleged incident, the victim, the perpetrator, the child’s family, evidentiary factors, and prosecutorial decisions that affect the trajectory and outcomes of cases. We are identifying concerns with victim competency and credibility, cooperation, and evidentiary issues. Our approach involves collaboration with practitioners to assist with interpretation of findings and report writing and to assure that materials useful for policy and practice will be widely disseminated.

JGBVR role: The goal of this NIJ funding initiative was to support criminal justice research and evaluation activities that include a researcher-practitioner partnership component and lead to better criminal justice policy, practice, and research, including for the participating practitioner partner. As such, it is designed to helping 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 will assist criminal justice practitioners and policymakers.) Thus, a key role for the JGBVR initiative and the participation of Dr Williams has been to mentor Prof. Block in developing justice system research and needed practitioner and community partnerships.

Significance and implications: This study will contribute to scholarly and practice-oriented literature and the scientific understanding of CSA case attrition with the goal of increasing access to justice for victims as we identify best practices for successful prosecution of perpetrators. Presentations, scholarly publications and future trainings and new research proposals are anticipated outcomes. The study will result in recommendations to improve outcomes for victims of CSA and successful prosecution of perpetrators.

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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