Attorney attitudes regarding behaviors associated with child sexual abuse

Georgia L. Hartman, Henry Karlson, Roberta A. Hibbard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


There appears to be a good deal of disagreement between professionals as to what constitutes child abuse. Attorneys as a group have been found to judge behaviors associated with child abuse more leniently than other abuse professionals. However, no one has discriminated between defense and prosecuting attorneys in these areas. It was hypothesized that because of divergent roles in child sexual abuse cases attitudes toward adult-child behaviors associated with sexual abuse would differ among attorney groups. Two prosecuting and two defense attorneys from every county in the state of Indiana were sent questionnaires. Participants were asked to indicate if a behavior was acceptable, inappropriate, or sexual abuse if it occurred on one or on multiple occasions. Prosecutors had more severe judgements than the defense attorneys on 32 of the 42 behaviors. They were more likely to indicate that a behavior was inappropriate or abuse. Cognitive dissonance theory is proposed as a possible explanation for these findings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)657-662
Number of pages6
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1994


  • Attorney attitudes
  • Child abuse
  • Sexual abuse

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Social Psychology
  • Education
  • Law
  • Sociology and Political Science

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