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Victim Witness Advocates

Assistance and Advocacy for Crime Victims

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 Child Physical/Sexual Abuse

WHEN YOUR CHILD IS A WITNESS
HELPING HIM OR HER ON TRIAL DAY

Being a witness in a trial is generally a new experience.  Most people do not do it often, and many people get nervous as they wait and think about it.  Similarly, parents of child witnesses often feel nervous for their children.  After working with many parents and children in this situation, we have seen several things that people often find helpful.

1.  Think about who is nervous. Feelings are contagious.  For example, children are particularly sensitive, and can easily catch their parents’ feelings.

 Remember that children are often nervous about something completely different from what parents are nervous about.  A parent may worry about whether or not a child can describe the incident clearly, or about an overly aggressive cross examination.  The child may be worried about what will happen if he or she has to go to the bathroom while she is on the stand.  Or about what he will tell his friends when he gets back to school.  Or about how mom feels while she is waiting outside the courtroom.  We have been pleased to learn that many children are not as worried as their parents are about testifying, and that in looking back sometimes testifying was a helpful experience.

2.      Find ways to reassure your child that you are both “just fine”. This  does not mean telling the child “I’m not nervous” if you are, or that “there is no reason to be nervous” if the child is.  But, here are four things that may help.

  1. There is often a lot of waiting involved, and you will probably have to wait outside of the courtroom while your child is testifying, so bring a friend for you to “talk with” while your child is in court.  You will probably find most helpful a friend who is concerned and caring, but who is not too emotionally involved in this case.  There will generally be a child advocate available to be in court with your child.
  1. Let your child know that you know they will do just fine.  Let the child know that he/she knows what happened and how to tell what is true.  Then when the child is finished testifying or being interviewed  focus on how the child feels rather than what the child said. Try not to say things in front of the child about how nervous you are because the child may pick up on those feelings and feel the need to take care of you.  If your child is worried that he did not do well on the stand, reassure him that he did the best that he could do and that you are proud of him for his courage..  These approaches often reassure children that they need not worry about you, and that in fact you are taking care of them.
  1. We find it is often more helpful, more reassuring, to provide your child with lots of affection, perhaps in the form of hugs, well before court rather than just as they are going into the courtroom. Sometimes lots of last minute hugs send the message to the child that they will need the hugs to get through the tough times coming up ahead .... alerting them to be scared.
  1. The night before Court you and your child can relax with a favorite meal and activity (TV program, movie, and reading).  Keep the emphasis off “getting good sleep” and just focus on relaxing.

 

3.      Plan for the waiting: There is a good chance you and or your child will spend time waiting for court.  You may already know a lot about passing “wait time” with your child while away from your home.

  1. Pack some snacks or lunch: There are snack bars and restaurants nearby, but by packing some yourself, you can bring healthy food such as fruit, milk and sandwiches, and avoid the heavy sugars such as candy and cookies.  Also, you can save money and not worry about what this day is costing.
  1. Pack a few favorite toys: Favorite toys have a double benefit—they help children and families pass time and they provide some security because they are familiar.  We’ve seen families bring coloring books, crayons, favorite books (particularly older children and teenagers), small board games, dolls or stuffed animals, walkman tape recorders with earphones, and drawing tables.  Often child and teenaged witnesses like to hold one of their items while they are testifying.
  1. Bring a book or other activity for yourself: Things we’ve seen parents do here include read a book or magazine, write letters or in a journal, knit, play board games with or read to their children.

 

Last Modified: June13, 2007