Behavioral Evidence

The way victims behave in the courtroom may have a substantial impact on the trial outcome. One study found that too little or too much emotion from the alleged child victim negatively affected credibility in the eyes of the mock jurors (Golding, Fryman, Marsil, & Yozwiak, 2003). In this study, the alleged offender was more likely to be convicted when the child was teary-eyed versus when the child was calm or hysterical. The age of the victim is important. Research has found that older child victims (12-17) appear to be most emotionally impacted by the court process, followed by 7-11-year olds, then 4-6-year olds. In one study of juror perceptions of child sexual-abuse victims, 7 to 11-year olds were seen as more sexually naive and, therefore, more credible, compared to victims ages 12 and older (Bottoms, Davis, & Epstein, 2004). Taken together, this suggests that mid-adolescent children are likely to be viewed as most credible to jurors, provided that they present as emotional, but still in control. Certain victim behavioral indicators (such as sleeping difficulties, social withdrawal, depression, and suicidal ideation) also have been found to increase the chances of a guilty verdict (Lewis, Klettke, & Day, 2014), while simultaneously finding that medical evidence did not impact case dispositions.

Earlier, we discussed the many impacts of sexual abuse on child victims. Tension-reducing activities, such as self-injury, running away, risky sexual behaviors, and engaging in criminal activity, have been well documented in studies investigating the effects of child sexual abuse. Victims who engage in such activities may be viewed as less credible to jurors. One study found that when child victims showed evidence of destructive behavior or acting in a way that ran counter to social norms, a jury was more likely to discredit their allegations and return a not- guilty verdict (Lewis et al., 2014).

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