The Study

Fourteen New Zealand advocates and five English barristers were interviewed between 1995-96 and 1997-98 respectively concerning a range of issues relating to child sex abuse trials. The individual interviews lasted between one and three hours each. The New Zealand group included four specialist prosecutors and ten defence counsel. The English counsel, as is conventional in England, all acted on both sides. This chapter discusses the respondents' opinions concerning the plausibility of a series of possible defences in court. Such a small sample cannot, of course, be regarded as representative of lawyers in each country but it may give some indications as to views within each profession.

In the study the respondents were asked to comment on four defences to child sexual abuse allegations that are often criticised by researchers as implausible and prejudicial. The defences were, first, that an adult had misled the child by suggestion into believing he or she had been abused; second, that the child was coached to make false allegations knowingly; and, third, that the child fantasised the attack. The fourth defence was that the child lied deliberately and maliciously. The respondents were invited to suggest any other common defences but all agreed that the list comprised the main defences. Any additional reasons volunteered appeared to be subsets of the main four.

This chapter argues that the respondents' discussions of the defences are indicative of a negative view of childhood generally and a sceptical view of child sex assault complainants especially. This viewpoint contrasts strongly with current psychological research suggesting that children are capable witnesses. The chapter also charts some significant correspondences between defences to children's allegations of abuse and defences to adult women's allegations of rape.

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