Brief Research Report: Age Factors Affecting the Believability of Repressed Memories of Child Sexual Assault

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Abstract

Two experiments investigated how mock jurors react to testimony involving claims of a repressed memory in a case involving child sexual assault. Participants read a fictional civil trial summary presented in one of three conditions: (a) immediate condition—the alleged victim testified immediately after the incident; (b) repressed condition—the alleged victim reported the assault 1-39 years later, after remembering it for the first time; or (c) not-repressed condition—the alleged victim reported the assault l-39 years later, but the memory of the assault had been present for those years. When there was any type of delayed reporting, either the age of the alleged victim at the time of the assault. was constant and her age at reporting varied (Experiment 1) or the age of the alleged victim at the time of the assault varied and her age at reporting remained constant (Experiment 2). The results showed that (1) a delay in reporting an incident adversely affected believability of the alleged victim and led to fewer rulings in support of the plaintiff compared to reporting it immediately, (2) longer delays in reporting generally led to lower alleged victim believability and fewer decisions in support of the plaintiff than shorter delays, (3) the age of the alleged victim at the time of the incident was a critical variable in determining belief of the alleged victim, and (4) men generally rated believability of the alleged victim lower and ruled in favor of the plaintiff less often than women. The results are discussed in terms of the psychosocial factors affecting the perception of delayed reporting in a child sexual assault trial

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