Academic journal article Law & Society Review

Children as Victims, Witnesses, and Offenders: Psychological Science and the Law

Academic journal article Law & Society Review

Children as Victims, Witnesses, and Offenders: Psychological Science and the Law

Article excerpt

Children as Victims, Witnesses, and Offenders: Psychological Science and the Law. By Bette L. Bottoms, Cynthia J. Najdowski, & Gail S. Goodman, eds. New York: Guilford Publications, 2009. 401 pp. $45.00 cloth.

Prompted by the oft-cited daycare abuse cases of the 1980s, child advocates voiced concern about investigative practices with children. In the wake of these cases, participants in the legal system were made to address inappropriate interviewing techniques common with child victims, and social scientists began to examine the range of suggestive influences that might affect children's disclosures. Over the past 25 years, researchers and practitioners have produced an impressive body of work addressing critical issues that arise when children enter the justice system as victims, witnesses, or offenders. Child forensic interviewing has evolved from a piecemeal enterprise to a remarkable clinical consensus about a range of interviewing techniques and procedural reforms. Still, answers to questions about children's varied developmental capabilities, memories, disclosure of abuse, suggestibility, and culpability are fraught with controversy.

Children as Victims, Witnesses, and Offenders offers a balanced, up-to-date review and critique of issues imperative to children's involvement in the legal system. The editors have brought together a renowned group of legal and social science scholars to address questions central in contemporary debates: When, and under what conditions, can researchers and practitioners believe children? What are children's competencies or vulnerabilities as victims, witnesses, and offenders? How are children treated within a legal context, and what accommodations are necessary? For example, when should children be protected from undue stress and harm (e.g., videotaped testimony and closed-circuit television in the courtroom) or treated as adults (e.g., traditional police interrogation techniques and the waiver of youth to adult court)? While much has been published on child abuse victims and juvenile offenders in the past two decades, the two have rarely been taken up together in this way. Equally, scholars often treat legal agencies, practices, and processes as discrete entities. The main strength of the book is its holistic approach to children and youth that present with a range of capabilities, at various points, and to a variety of agencies (often multiple) within the justice system.

Beginning with an introduction through legal cases, this comprehensive volume is organized into two parts. The first part addresses issues that arise when children enter the legal system as victims or witnesses. Pertinent themes include disclosure, denial, and recantation of abuse; children's memory and suggestibility, especially with regard to the child forensic investigative interview; children in court and the effects of legal involvement on victims; expert testimony and jurors' perceptions of child victims and witnesses; and international perspectives on child witnesses. …

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