Forensic, cultural, and systems issues in child sexual abuse cases--part 2: research and practitioner issues.
We report a longitudinal study of long-term outcomes of participating in criminal cases following child sexual abuse (CSA). In the 1980s, 218 child victim/witnesses took part in a study of short-term sequelae of legal involvement. Approximately 12 years later, 174 of them, as well as a comparison group of 41 matched individuals with no CSA history, were interviewed about their mental health and legal attitudes. Being young when the legal case started was associated with poorer later adjustment. Additionally, even when controlling for psychological problems at the start of the legal case and other familial, CSA, and life stressors, testifying repeatedly in childhood predicted poorer current functioning. These associations were often moderated by the severity of both the CSA and the perpetrator's sentence: Testifying repeatedly in cases involving severe abuse, and not testifying when the perpetrator received a light sentence, predicted poorer current mental health. In partial contrast to the mental health results, being older when the case began and the perpetrator receiving a lenient sentence predicted more negative feelings about the legal system. In addition, not having testified when the perpetrator received a light sentence predicted more negative legal attitudes. Individuals' emotional reactions while waiting to testify and while actually testifying were also associated with their current mental health and attitudes toward the legal system: Greater distress predicted poorer adjustment, especially in individuals who were adolescents when they went to court. Greater distress also predicted more negative attitudes. Finally, when the former CSA victim/witnesses were compared with individuals with no CSA history, the former reported poorer adjustment and more negative feelings about the legal system. Results have implications for multilevel-transactional models of development, for understanding developmental sequelae of legal involvement following childhood trauma, and for social policy concerning the treatment of child victim/witnesses.