Swedish Study Of Forensic Evaluations Of Child Sexual Abuse

The combination of a controversial area of practice and a lack of systematic empirical evaluations of this particular field created a demand for further inquiry of forensic assessments of alleged child sexual abuse. To meet this need, Lindblad and Gumpert initiated a study that looked into the documentation of a large number of cases of alleged child sexual abuse in Sweden. All cases tried in Swedish district courts during four different years (1985, 1989, 1992, and 1997) were included (n = 800). The aims were to explore the pattern of expert witness participation, and to document assessment methods and style of reporting in forensic evaluations and to compare these to the recommended guidelines. Furthermore, we wanted to explore the communication between the courts and the expert witnesses (Gumpert, 2001). Over this period (1985-1997) the number of expert witnesses consulted on issues related to the credibility of child witnesses declined (Table 4.3.1). It was more common to consult experts in cases that involved preschool children (< 7 years of age), and cases in which the suspect denied the charges (Gumpert, Lindblad and Johansson, 1999).

To compare the existing expert witness reports to recommended guidelines, a quality assessment protocol was created. This protocol, 'Structured Quality assessment of eXpert witness testimony' (SQX-12) included a set of criteria by which to evaluate the formal structure and the content of written expert witness testimony The 'checklist' included 12 items, based on recommendations made by Swedish authorities (Social-styrelsen, 1991), but also general principles for forensic evaluations mentioned in the literature. Five items referred to formal aspects, such as whether the expert had stated the referral question(s), what information had been used for the assessment and whether more than one evaluator had been involved during the assessment procedure (as was recommended). Five items referred to the content of the written statement, for example whether the expert had included a description of the allegations (what

Table 4.3.1 Total number of court cases each year of the study

Verdict

1985

1989

1992

1997

Total

n %

n %

n %

n %

n

%

Convictions

146 92

214 90

231 92

134 88

725

91

Acquittals

13 8

24 10

20 8

18 12

75

9

Total

159 100

238 100

251 100

152 100

800

100

did the child say? when? to whom? in what situation? etc), and had assessed the developmental status of the child. One item checked if alternative interpretations were discussed, and one referred to the overall quality of the written statement. For a more detailed description of the development of the procedure, see Gumpert, Lindblad and Grann (2002a).

The main finding from this study was that experts giving written testimony related to child credibility and/or reliability only partly followed the recommended standards (Gumpert, Lindblad and Grann, 2002b). The statement quality according to the SQX-checklist was found to be poor, but there were differences among professional groups. Generally, the group of experts applying statement analysis produced reports of higher quality than did the more clinically oriented representatives of child psychiatry. These experts more thoroughly identified data sources and included information regarding the referral questions. They discussed alternative interpretations more often than other groups. Despite recommendations, team evaluations were rarely used, and descriptions of allegation content and context were not always included.

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