The practice of prosecuting child maltreatment: Results of an online survey of prosecutors

Theodore P. Cross, Debra Whitcomb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Despite efforts by advocates, practitioners, and legislators to alleviate the burden on child maltreatment victims in the criminal justice system, many challenges remain for prosecutors as they seek to hold offenders accountable while minimizing the emotional impact on children. More than 200 state and local prosecutors in 37 states responded to an online survey to share their perspectives on current challenges, procedures to support children in the adjudication process, and the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court opinion in Crawford v. Washington (2004), sex offender registries, and “Safe Harbor” legislation to protect child sexual exploitation victims. Respondents' most pressing challenges were obtaining evidence to corroborate children's statements and the difficulties of working with child victims. Child testimony was ranked as more frequent than any other type of evidence, and least frequent were DNA, photos or videos of criminal acts, and other physical evidence. Prosecutors rely primarily on victim/witness assistants and courtroom tours to prepare children for testimony; technological alternatives are seldom used. Results suggest a real but limited impact of the Crawford opinion on the need for child testimony and on the decision to prosecute. Survey findings indicate a need for greater attention to thorough investigations with particular attention to corroboration. Doing so may strengthen the child's credibility, which is especially critical in cases lacking physical or medical evidence of maltreatment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)20-28
Number of pages9
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
StatePublished - Jul 1 2017


  • Child abuse and neglect
  • Corroboration
  • Crawford v. Washington
  • Prosecution
  • Safe harbor laws
  • Sex offender registry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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