Date of Award

Spring 6-2023

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)





First Advisor or Mentor

Kelly McWilliams

Second Reader

Emily Haney-Caron

Third Advisor

Melanie Fessinger


In cases of alleged child sexual abuse, information about the timing of events is often needed to establish a timeline, determine specific charges, or establish witness credibility (Lyon et al., 2017). However, past developmental laboratory research has demonstrated that children struggle to provide accurate and reliable testimony about time, and there is currently a lack of field research examining how attorneys actually question child witnesses about time in court (Friedman, 1991; Wandrey et al., 2012). The current study analyzed 73 trial transcripts from cases of alleged child maltreatment containing a child witness between the ages of 5 to 17 years old testifying about alleged sexual abuse in order to determine the frequency, style, and content of attorneys' questions and child responses about time. Results indicate that both prosecuting and defense attorneys primarily ask temporal location questions (i.e., when an event took place using a temporal construct such as day, month, and year) to child witnesses, which is problematic since developmental research has shown children tend to struggle with the ability to temporally locate a past event. Additionally, results suggest that children primarily answer temporal questions with simple temporal responses (e.g., numbers or temporal concepts) that are unlikely to contain accurate and reliable information, given what we currently know about children’s developmental abilities to temporally locate past events.



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