Date of Award


Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Psychology, PhD


School of Behavioral and Organizational Sciences

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Kathy Pezdek

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Tiffany Berry

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Mark A. Costanzo

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Thomas D. Lyon

Terms of Use & License Information

Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.

Rights Information

© 2012 Stacia N. Stolzenberg


This study explored the content of courtroom conversations about children's prior discussions regarding sexual abuse. Sixty felony child abuse trial transcripts including child testimony and reviewing court opinions were collected from the Court of Appeal and from court reporters. Information was obtained from under Section 288 of the California Penal code (sexual abuse of a child under 14 years of age) filed in Los Angeles County from 1997 to 2001. For this study, transcript testimony was transcribed, extracted for the necessary information, coded, assessed for reliability, and analyzed. The findings indicate that conversations about children's prior disclosure conversations, non-disclosure conversations, and conversations with perpetrators are present in nearly all cases of alleged child sexual abuse, although they only represent about 8% of questions asked of children. These courtroom conversations appear to mimic effects found throughout other child testimony research: children are often limited in their responsiveness unless open ended questions are asked and they rarely provide detailed content unless prompted to do so. The findings revealed that overt accusations, references to children's motives for telling or not telling, and conversations with the perpetrator about abuse were infrequently discussed by attorneys when interviewing child witnesses about their alleged sexual abuse during trial testimony. This was surprising as these topics are often discussed in the empirical literature as important factors to consider when assessing children's credibility. In the present study, children were often asked about what they disclosed generally, what was said during abusive acts, and what was (or was not) disclosed during specific prior conversations. Further, our results reflect that children's ultimate credibility assessment, as assessed by the outcome of the trial, related to the presence of non-disclosure questions and not the presence of disclosure questions or conversations between the perpetrator and child; cases without non-disclosure questions consistently resulted in a conviction. This study provided a first step in assessing the content of courtroom conversations about children's prior discussions about sexual abuse. Implications and future directions for research are discussed.