The Legal Process in Child Sexual Abuse : Difficulties in confirming evidence and providing support

Abstract: The overall purpose of this thesis was to study the situation of such children in the legal process. In depth-interviews were carried out on ten children aged 8-18 years old. The interviews focused on the children´s experiences and perceptions of meeting with various professionals in the legal process. In-depth interviews were also conducted with nine parents of children who had been sexually abused and who had entered into a legal process. Parents described how they experienced the situation for their children as victims, but also their experiences as parents whose children participated in a legal process. Seven prosecutors with experience of cases where children were plaintiffs were also interviewed in this study.The interviews were analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). This is an appropriate method to explore the participants´ life-world/personal-world and the individuals´ personal perceptions of objects or events, as opposed to an attempt to produce an objective account. In the first study (study I) on the children, five major themes emerged through the analysis: not being believed, making child sexual abuse visible, need for support, sanctions for offenders and lack of respect for the child´s integrity. Almost all of the children had a feeling of not being believed.In the study (study II) on the parents, three superordinate themes emerged from an analysis of the data: stigmatization, need for support in the parental role and transforming consequences to reality.Three themes emerged from prosecutors study (study III) difficulties with the evidence of crime, children´s special needs and children´s dependence on adults. The informants´ descriptions of how they perceived the children in the legal process were associated with their experience of the difficulty of finding proof of the crime.The aim of study IV was to identify and describe the obstacles that can prevent children from talking about sexual abuse in a police interview. Data consisted of 28 investigative interviews with children and 12 police interrogations with non-offending parents. Data interpretation and analysis were based on content analysis. The following categories were identified: not being believed/telling the truth, need for support and dependence on adults, guilt and shame, fear and difficulty in spatial and temporal characterization.The main conclusion of the thesis is that there are difficulties in confirming evidence when children who have suffered sexual abuse are involved in a legal process. It is also concluded that there is an absence of models with the aim to support children and parents going through the process.