A Child Alleging Sexual Abuse Should Not Have Therapy Delayed Until After Trial



Date of Publication
April, 2011

In cases of child sexual abuse, some prosecutors discourage parents or others from placing a child in therapy until after the trial. The fear is that therapy will create memory and suggestibility issues which may be used by defense counsel to attack the child's credibility. Therapists confronting this issue can make the following points.

  1. If a child wants or needs therapy, it is unethical to withhold this treatment. Numerous studies document that sexual abuse results in significant emotional harm. Delaying the mental health services necessary to address this harm until the trial and appellate process is complete, a process that may take years, defies logic.
  2. Therapy often makes the child a much stronger witness. This is because the child is better able to handle the anxieties in their life.
  3. The therapist may be able to provide additional evidence to the prosecutor. If, for example, the therapist diagnoses the child with PTSD or other conditions, some states will admit the diagnosis as being consistent with trauma the child endured.
  4. If a child has already alleged sexual abuse, the therapist is not in any way creating that memory but is simply helping the child cope with the experience. Assuming the therapist is well versed in memory and suggestibility literature and takes precautions to avoid contaminating the child's disclosure of maltreatment, therapy should not harm the child nor the child's credibility in court.

Many thanks to Victor Vieth, Director, National Child Protection Training Center for this "Tip" and resources.