News ID: 139991
Published: 0239 GMT April 22, 2016

US laws lack uniformity to protect child witnesses

US laws lack uniformity to protect child witnesses

Each year, more than 100,000 children take the stand to testify in criminal, civil or juvenile courts in the US, but legal protections for these underage witnesses and victims greatly vary from state to state.

"Children of all ages are approaching the bench, being sworn in by a judicial officer, and are asked to sit in a room full of adults to discuss potentially traumatizing and embarrassing events of their victimization," said Ashley Fansher, a PhD student at Sam Houston State University,  reported Physorg.

 "The average adult is intimidated by the criminal justice system and is generally not knowledgeable about court proceedings. The system is even more perplexing for children, especially when asked questions above their development level.”

Federal laws provide some guidelines on children testifying in court, such as allowing alternatives to live testimony like videotaping, competency examinations, privacy protections, victim impact statements, the use of multi-disciplinary child abuse teams, the necessity for speedy trials, and the allowance of support persons and testimonial aids.

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, 140,000 child abuse victims participated in court proceedings in 2013. States vary widely on seven key issues regarding child testimony, including the number of times a child can be interviewed, the need for speedy trials in cases involving child witnesses or victims, the use of leading questions, the admission of out-of-court statements, the presence of a support person, and the use of comfort items.

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