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Child sexual abuse — Initial suspicion and legal outcome

Joki-Erkkilä, Minna, Niemi, Jenni, Ellonen, Noora
Forensic science international 2018
age, children, courts, forensic sciences, hospitals, medical records, observational studies, police, sexual abuse
To evaluate the association of primary reason to suspect child sexual abuse with the legal end-point in medically examined, police reported cases.Observational post hoc analysis of retrospective review of records of 155 medically examined, police reported alleged child sexual abuse (CSA) cases during 2001–2009. Primary referral indications for medical examinations or criminal investigations were analyzed with an end-point in the legal process. The data consists of official investigation documents from University Hospital records, police, crime laboratories, state prosecutor, and courts of Law.The median age of the children was 7.1 years (range 11 months–17.5 years) at the time when suspicion of sexual abuse was reported to police. Conviction of the alleged perpetrator was significantly more likely in cases where the child’s disclosure was the reason for the initial suspicion of CSA, compared to cases with referrals for “suspicious circumstances” (39/92, 42.4% vs. 7/37, 19%, p<0.001). In 92 (59.5%) cases the initial suspicion of CSA arose from child’s disclosure. The forensic interviewer’s report supported more likely CSA allegations where the suspicion of CSA arose by child’s clear, detailed and credible disclosure of what had happened, compared to the other initial reasons of suspicion (35/61, 57.4% vs. 13/42, 31.0%, p=0.001). In child’s age category of 4–9 years conviction was significantly more likely where the initial suspicion of CSA arose with child’s disclosure, compared to other reasons of suspicion (21.45, 46.7% vs. 5/27, 16.7%, p=0.001). No association was found regarding to whom the initial suspicion of CSA arose and legal outcome. Forensic interviewer’s report supported the allegation of CSA more often if the suspicion was arose first to a neutral person (p=0.019). Legal outcome of conviction was associated with child’s disclosure of perpetrator’s physical contact regardless of how the suspicion arose (45/99, 45.5% vs. 10/46, 21.7%, p<0.001).The reason which initially arise a suspicion of child sexual abuse plays an important role in the criminal investigation. Initial suspicion of CSA by child’s disclosure, an eyewitness or objective material may lead to higher conviction rates. If a concerning physical symptom or finding arise the suspicion of CSA, referral to expert consultation is recommended to prevent unnecessary allegations and investigations. Other possible differential diagnostic medical conditions need to be evaluated. Furthermore, when child’s disclosure arise a suspicion of CSA, it needs to be thoroughly investigated, regardless to whom the child discloses to.