Children's Advocacy Centers' Effects on the Prosecutorial Decision to Accept or Reject Cases of Child Sexual Abuse
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This study investigates the role of Children’s Advocacy Centers (CACs) in the decision to accept or reject cases of child sexual abuse for prosecution made by prosecuting attorneys. CACs were developed, in part, to aid child protection workers and law enforcement officials in investigating child abuse claims while reducing the traumatic effects of investigations on children. The first CACs were developed during a time when infamous cases of false child abuse allegations were in the headlines and shed light on the need for trained professionals to interview suspected child abuse victims. While CACs are now found in every state and routinely used by professionals charged with investigating child abuse allegations, a dearth of research exists regarding the utility of CACs in reference to prosecutorial decisions. Literature on CACs has primarily focused on effectively interviewing children while lessening any potential traumatic effects from an investigation. While CACs across the county vary in mission statements and foci, two consistent components remain: forensic interviewing and the use of multidisciplinary teams (MDTs). This research examined cases processed through a Texas CAC in an effort to bridge the gap of knowledge in reference to the utility of CACs. Logistic regression analysis was used to examine whether the different components of the CAC were correlated with the prosecutorial decision to accept or reject cases of child sexual abuse. Specifically, forensic interviews, MDT components, sexual assault exams, and case coordination were examined. The findings of the research indicate that the age of the child, sex of the alleged perpetrator, child protection dispositions, outcry of the child, the presence of a child witness, the county in which the alleged offense occurred, and whether the child had a sexual assault exam were all significantly correlated with the prosecutorial decision to accept or reject a case. However, physical findings on sexual assault examinations and case coordination between law enforcement and CPS were not significantly correlated with prosecutorial decisions. Implications for CACs are discussed including suggestions to streamline the prosecutorial screening process for child sexual abuse cases. Limitations for this study are also discussed including the small portion of cases that were used for analysis. Suggestions for future research include replication studies with more cases and additional qualitative case specific information.