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The credibility of sexual abuse allegations: Child sexual abuse, adult rape, and sexual harassment

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Allegations and denials of sexual abuse often occur in a context in which there is rarely decisive evidence. The present study investigated the credibility of allegations of three kinds of sexual abuse—child sexual abuse, adult rape, and sexual harassment—that also contained a denial by the alleged perpetrator. Perceptions of fair punishment were investigated for the perpetrator if he did actually commit these acts and for the accuser if she was lying. Results indicated that allegations were generally rated in the credible direction. Allegations of child sexual abuse were rated more credible than allegations of rape or sexual harassment. Females found all allegations more credible than males. Males were more likely to believe allegations in the child sexual abuse condition than either the rape or sexual harassment conditions. Females were more likely to believe sexual harassment allegations. Punishments were generally the most severe for child sexual abuse, and psychotherapy was a popular disposition for both perpetrators and those making false allegations.

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O'Donohue, W., O'Hare, E. The credibility of sexual abuse allegations: Child sexual abuse, adult rape, and sexual harassment. J Psychopathol Behav Assess 19, 273–279 (1997). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02229021

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Key words

  • child sexual abuse
  • rape
  • sexual harassment
  • credibility