Legal decision–making in child sexual abuse investigations: A mixed–methods study of factors that influence prosecution

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6 Scopus citations


Prosecution of child sexual abuse cases is an important aspect of a community's response for holding perpetrators accountable and protecting children. Differences in charging rates across jurisdictions may reflect considerations made in prosecutors' decision–making process. This mixed–methods, multiphase study used data from a Children's Advocacy Center in a suburban county in the Southern United States to explore the factors associated with child sexual abuse cases that are accepted for prosecution and the process followed by prosecutors. Data were sequentially linked in three phases (qualitative-quantitative-qualitative), incorporating 1) prosecutor perceptions about what case characteristics affect charging potential, 2) 100 case records and forensic interviews, and 3) in–depth reviews of cases prosecuted. Content analysis was used to identify influential case elements, logistic regression modeling was used to determine factors associated with a decision to prosecute, and framework analysis was used to further confirm and expand upon case factors. Overall, findings indicate that prosecution is most strongly predicted by caregiver support and the availability of other evidence. The decision to prosecute was found to include a process of ongoing evaluation of the evidence and determination of a balanced approach to justice. The decision to prosecute a case can be influenced by strong and supportive investigative practices. An important implication is that interaction among multidisciplinary professionals promotes communication and efforts, further enhancing discretion about potential legal actions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)302-314
Number of pages13
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
StatePublished - May 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


  • Child advocacy center (CAC)
  • Child sexual abuse
  • Decision–making
  • Forensic interview
  • Investigation
  • Mixed methods
  • Prosecution

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