When will a child be believed? The impact of the victim's age and juror's gender on children's credibility and verdict in a sexual-abuse case

Child Abuse Negl. 2001 Apr;25(4):523-39. doi: 10.1016/s0145-2134(01)00224-1.


Objective: To provide insight into the central dimensions jurors may use when deciding a child victim's credibility and verdict.

Method: Participants (N = 573) read a simulated trial (robbery or a sexual-assault case in which the defendant was either a stranger or an acquaintance) in which the alleged victim was either a 6- or 13-year-old girl. The trials were constructed to be as similar as possible with only minimal differences in the child's testimony. The supporting evidence was held constant across cases to allow for experimental assessment of the hypotheses.

Results: The defendant was more likely to be found guilty in the sexual-assault cases than in the robbery case. The child was perceived to be more credible, honest, and to have a better memory in the sexual-assault cases compared to the robbery case. Perceptions of memory and honesty predicted verdict and punishment. The child's age did not impact credibility or verdict. Finally, women, compared to men, perceived the child as more credible.

Conclusions: Type of case was a potent factor in jurors' determination of guilt and the child's credibility. Contrary to expectations, neither the victim's age nor the interaction between this and type of case impacted verdict or credibility measures.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Child
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / psychology*
  • Crime Victims / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Crime Victims / psychology*
  • Criminal Law
  • Deception*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Role Playing
  • Sex Factors