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The effect of testifying on sexually abused children: identifying trauma

24 July 1998


he proliferation of child abuse cases has resulted in a growing number of children who must testify in the intimidating surroundings of the courtroom. Children are being asked to confront their abusers and face countless questions from those in the judicial system with increasing frequency. The Courts must now meet a new challenge: that of protecting the rights of the accused while also protecting the special needs of the child victim. The psychological community must also meet this challenge by being aware of the (1 current research regarding children who testify and the implications for preparing the child to face the defendant. The purpose of this paper is to explore the existing literature concerning the effects of courtroom testimony on children who testify. In particular, three issues are discussed: 1) our understanding of what is currently known about the impact of testifying on children and how it can be assessed; 2) implications of this information with Cl respect to protection of the child in the courtroom; and 3) the role of the clinician in providing appropriate support to the child who must testify. Based on this review, several conclusions can be drawn: First, future research should focus on the long-term effects of C) testifying on children who are victims of sexual abuse. Second, identifying traits that may make children susceptible to trauma may also aid in the creation of a prospective
measurement tool. Lastly, clarifying the psychologist's role in this process may encourage further involvement both in and outside of the courtroom.


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