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NCJRS Abstract

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NCJ Number: 118431 Find in a Library
Title: Strange Language -- Child Victims Under Cross Examination
Author(s): M Brennan; R E Brennan
Date Published: 1989
Page Count: 103
Sponsoring Agency: Criminology Research Council
Canberra ACT 2601, Australia
Riverina Murray Institute of Higher Education
Wagga Wagga N.S.W. 2650, Australia
Publication Number: ISBN 0-949060-74-7
Sale Source: Riverina Murray Institute of Higher Education
P.O. Box 588
Wagga Wagga N.S.W. 2650,
Type: Issue Overview
Language: English
Country: Australia
Annotation: The efficacy of court testimony by sexually abused children and the significance of the language gap between adults and children in the courtroom are assessed.
Abstract: The gap between adults and children in the legal system generally is extended by the child's status as victim and accuser. Sexually abused children often perceive that they are the cause of sexual assault, and they are often persuaded to give testimony under pressure from adults. Although children are usually not daunted by the complexities of language, the language used in criminal courtrooms is at best strange to the uninitiated. The problem is one of identifying the distance between a child's language capacity and courtroom language, a distance that becomes more pronounced during cross-examination of the child victim-witness. The child has little room for negotiating or maneuvering, since the courtroom situation is totally alien to the child's previous experience in which language is used to learn about and generally establish relationships with the rest of the world. In the courtroom, children can become victims of language rules that prohibit them from expressing themselves in a meaningful and truthful way. One study found that court language was not well-matched with children's language capacities; the degree of mismatch varied according to the language used by lawyers. Questions asked of children were frequently restrictive in the kind of response they allowed. Another aspect of mismatch concerned the cumulative, negative effect of questioning on children. Language mechanics used by lawyers in court that may be complex or difficult for children are noted, and the credibility of child witnesses is discussed in terms of fantasy versus reality, memory, and motives. An annotated bibliography is included.
Main Term(s): Juvenile witnesses
Index Term(s): Child Sexual Abuse; Children in the courtroom; Witness credibility
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