Post-Traumatic Syndromes in Childhood and Adolescence: A Handbook of Research and Practice

By Vittoria Ardino | Go to book overview

Chapter Nine
The Role of PTSD in Understanding
Child Allegations of Sexual Abuse

Paola Di Blasio, Sarah Miragoli, and Rossella Procaccia


Introduction

Empirical and clinical findings have demonstrated that violence can have severe psychological and physical consequences for victims. Amongst the various forms of interpersonal violence, child sexual abuse has proven to be the most serious (for a review, see Sachs-Ericsson et al., 2009) in terms of internalization and externalization (Quas, Goodman, & Jones, 2003; Sternberg et al., 2006; Walrath et al., 2003) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptomatology (Feerick & Snow, 2005; Hetzel & McCanne, 2005).

Child sexual abuse also raises many problematic areas when the child has to testify in court, such as potential secondary forms of victimization when children have to relate their traumatic experience (Glaser & Spencer, 1990; Goodman & Jones, 1988; Goodman et al., 1992; Quas et al., 2005; Whitcomb, 2003; Whitcomb et al., 1994). Another problematic area concerns the impact of PTSD on children’s allegations. In fact, although the association between traumatic sexual experiences and symptoms of PTSD is well established, little is known about how post-traumatic symptoms may impact on a child’s ability to testify in court. Furthermore, little is known about whether the content and structure of child abuse allegations are affected by the presence/absence of PTSD symptoms.

In a court setting, the reliability of child witnessing is tested through the children’s ability to recall their experiences in the form of explicit, distinct memories and in a narrative framework where time and space are coherently anchored alongside meaningful contextual details (Dent, 1977; Spencer & Flin, 1990; Whitcomb, Shapiro, & Stellwagen, 1985). Children’s narratives that provide a

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