The Trial of the Expert Witness: Negotiating Credibility in Child Abuse Correspondence
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This article reports on forensic letters written by physicians specializing in identifying children who have experienced maltreatment. These writers face an extraordinary exigence in that they must provide an opinion as to whether a child has experienced abuse without specifically diagnosing abuse and thus crossing into a legal domain. Their credibility was also at issue because, in this jurisdiction, child abuse identification was not recognized as a medical subspecialty and because the status of expert witnesses is currently being challenged. Through an analysis of 72 forensic letters combined with interview data from six letter writers and five letter readers, we determined that these writers used linguistic and rhetorical strategies that allowed these letters to function as boundary objects or objects that traverse several communities of practice. The most salient strategy was the use of evaluative lexis—adjectives and adverbs which allowed for a range of interpretations and constrained those interpretations at the same time.