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PSYC 376 (37)
Lecture 10


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Simon Fraser University
PSYC 376
Deborah Connolly

Chapter 8: child Witness in Criminal Court - Most likely reason for children to enter courtroom is because they have allegedly experienced CSA - Procedural steps that unfolds if case goes to trial and child is to be witness 1. Call to police or child protective services made; police or social worker interviews child 2. Detective assigned to case + likely interview child 3. If case accepted for prosecution, prosecutor will interview child several months after case reported to authorities 4. Victim advocate (social worker working with courts) may be assigned to help explain legal system to child and family to guide through court process 5. Child may testify in depositions and /or preliminary hearings 6. Trial date set can be postponed more than once, = child have to emotionally prepare to testify and wait at courthouse for hours 7. Child may be called as witness in trial treated like an adult witness (face defendant, cross-examination) 8. If defendant found guilty, child may be encouraged to testify at sentencing hearing 9. CSA prosecution’s case going to trial, child may be in juvenile court dependency case to determine removal from home - Any point in process, charges may be dropped or plea bargain arranged, or conviction appealed so case start all over - Methodological challenges of children’s reactions to legal involvement and needs as victims and witnesses 1. Lack of random assignments to groups(open court vs. closed –circuit television) precludes causal inferences about effects confounds that may be not measured 2. Representativeness of samples difficult to convince prosecutors, courts or caretakers to permit research on violated children + limited access to certain types of cases ensues = can’t generalize findings 3. Potential that data may be subpoenaed problematic to include certain questions in study and creating ethical dilemma - Fear and anxieties associated with criminal court testimony for substantial subset of children - Factors as potential contributors for fear and anxiety 1. Adversarial and formal and can be hostile nature/environment of criminal courts during hearing and especially trial fear + distress Reactions heightened when child are afraid that their anxiety or discomfort may negatively affect trials Goodman et al. found majority of children said it was upsetting or frightening to testify in court In general, children report being more afraid of crying and answering questions in room of strangers than a near empty classroom Even children as old as 17 indicate taking witness stand in formal courtroom = one of biggest fears in legal case 2. Direct examination and especially cross-examination procedures Anticipation of specific experie4nce inside formal courtroom (being yelled, embarrassed) can increase anxiety Direct examination – usually involves describing crime – discuss highly personal/traumatic events = may embarrass and discomfort and may force to relive events in retraumatizing context Cross-examination – designed to discredit witness Common fear related to cross-examinations (1) being accused of lying in court (2) badgered while testifying 3. Facing defendant Primary causes of fear and anxiety especially evident in cases where defendant is important to them (family) or if they had been threatened or has known history of violence 4. Children’s general lack of knowledge about legal system Anxiety likely exacerbated by poor understanding of linguistic terms and concepts used and role of each person - Presently some children leave courtroom with number of their worst fear realized, but many others are relieved that ordeal was not as bad as anticipated - Negative attitudes(disillusionment with legal system) outcome – contributed by lack of information, long prosecutions - Those testified in criminal cases rated legal system as less helpful (children) vs. not testified - Children rated effects of not testifying gars more positive than effects of testifying - long term testify actually view legal system as more fair than those who did not testify - testifying can be stressful but in long term if foster positive attitudes toward legal system - emotional outcomes in participating in legal system – internalizing (depression, headaches) and externalizing (ex. Aggression, delinquency) behavioural problems Goodman et al. study internalizing and externalizing problems decreased over course of prosecution, but those who testified showed less improvement in mental health (nontestifiers improved relative to their level of behavioural problems at intake, where testifiers didn’t) ~ Time prosecution closed, internalizing and externalizing problem scores dropped = improving ~ No differences between testifiers vs. not in externalizing behavioural problem scores, but testifiers still doing poorly for internalizing behaviours ~ testifying associated with less improvement in children’s emotional well-being ~ More risk of emotional problems if testified multiple times Quas et al. testified multiple times in more severe sexual abuse cases showed more emotional problems later vs. other child victims - Other predictors of emotional risk – lack of maternal support, lack of corroborative evidence, emotional problems evidence during initial assessment - Children’s behaviour problem = difficult to know if it’s due to legal system or other factors - Some say testifying or involved in court may be beneficial for victims feel less victimized an more in control rather than revictimized and further traumatized (give them powerful role and ease effects of victimization by giving voice in court); Goodman et al. If invited to give testimony could be sign their claims are being taken seriously, so if defendant found guilty the child may feel their statements helped; so if not permitted to testify may feel disenfranchised/helpless especially if defendant not convicted or lenient sentence - Growing evidence testifying in court not emotionally harmful, but multiple testimonies is - Quas et al. LT follow-up = no detectable differences in behavioural adjustment and trauma related psychopathology between testified children vs.
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