Can a Child Therapist Opine the Occurence of Sexual Abuse Without Physical Evidence of Abuse ?
In Allison v. State, 256 Ga. 851 (353 S.E.2d 805) (1987), a professor testified regarding the characteristics of child sexual abuse syndrome.
Then, a child therapist, based on:
his observations of the victim, his discussions with others who had counseled her, and the results of a battery of psychological tests that he had administered, . . . testified that the victim "does definitely appear to fall into child sexual abuse syndrome. . . . In my professional opinion, she has been sexually abused." Id. at 851-852.
No direct tangible evidence of physical abuse was admitted into evidence.
The Court held:
The jury, having the benefit of extensive testimony as to the lineaments of the child abuse syndrome, as well as testimony that this child exhibited several symptoms that are consistent with the syndrome, was fully capable of deciding -- upon their own -- whether the child in fact was abused, and, if so, whether the defendant did it.
For that reason, the admission of this aspect of the child therapist's testimony that molestation actually occurred was incorrect. Allison, supra at 853 (6).
Thus, under Allison, the Supreme Court set forth a rule that, where evidence of an abuse syndrome is admitted and no tangible physical evidence of abuse is presented, an expert cannot testify that abuse actually took place but can testify that the victim's symptoms are consistent with a determination that the victim is suffering from an abuse syndrome.
Because the expert in Allison had no direct physical evidence of abuse, only evidence gained through discussions with the victim and observations of her behavior, the expert was prevented from giving an opinion as to the ultimate issue of fact, i.e., that molestation actually occurred.