Prosecutors should consider the special vulnerabilities and needs of young girls who are the victims of sexual violence or domestic violence. Girls may suffer from a number of short- and long-term harmful effects including depression, suicide, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, and low self-esteem (Cody, 2009). Compassionate support, promptly offered and extended long-term as needed, is critical to avoiding these harmful effects. Prosecutors should prioritize resources for specialized interventions for teenage and young girls. Strategies for these cases include:
USA – Kids’ Court and Teen Court, King County, Washington
Kids’ Court is an innovative court awareness programme developed to: Help child victims of sexual abuse and other forms of victimization and trauma and their families participate effectively in the criminal justice process, and help these children and families better cope with the experience of going to court.
The Mission Statement states that:
Children who have experienced sexual victimization or have suffered from other forms of crime or traumatic events may suddenly and involuntarily become involved in the criminal justice system. Many things about this system are complicated and can evoke feelings of anxiety. The Kids’ Court philosophy is that no child should encounter having to testify in court without assistance in making that experience less intimidating. Kids’ Court educates and supports children and their parents and caretakers as they participate in the criminal justice process.
The Kid’s Court programme, for ages 4-12, is offered several times a year in urban and rural locations. A judge and a prosecutor lead discussions, role-plays, games, and question-and-answer sessions to increase children’s familiarity with courtroom procedures and personnel. The last part of the programme aims to increase the child’s comfort level and self-confidence. The importance of telling the truth is emphasized. Children learn:
To support and reinforce these sessions when Kids’ Court is over, each participant receives a book entitled, Do You know You Are Very Brave? A Child’s Guide To Testifying in Court and a relaxation tape. While the children are attending the programme, their parents attend a programme for adults which teaches them:
Parents also receive a Parent Informational Packet and a relaxation tape.
Kids’ Court has received many awards and recognitions. The U.S. Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime recognizes Kids’ Court as a “best practices” model programme that is exemplary in innovation, development of partnerships, outreach methods and multidisciplinary approaches that address the needs of children.
Teen Court, modeled after Kids’ Court, is a special programme designed to help teenage victims of sexual abuse and other crimes and their families to participate positively in the criminal justice system and to develop their self-confidence and comfort with the court process. Also held several times each year in an urban and a rural location, it involves teens in interactive programming.
As with the younger children, a parent session is offered to answer questions about the trial process and the court system.
A manual and curriculum is available to prosecutors, victim advocates, and judges. The book is marketed on a not-for-profit basis to enable other jurisdictions to begin similar programmes.
Contact: Donna Belin, MEd, Executive Director
King County Kids’ and Teen Court
Office of the Prosecuting Attorney
Special Assault Unit
704 228th Avenue Northeast, PMB 323
Sammamish, WA 98074-7222
An Interview with the Executive Director of Teen Court
The primary objectives of Teen Court, an innovative educational court awareness programme, are to assist victim/witnesses of sexual abuse, and other types of victimization and trauma, accomplish the following: obtain information about courtroom procedures and personnel; learn relaxation techniques that reduce anxiety and fear; help participants become more confident in their role as witnesses; learn that telling the truth is the most important rule of the court; and realize that adults care about them.
Teen Court is a collaborative effort on the part of the prosecutor’s office, advocacy personnel, and community volunteers from varied disciplines such as criminal justice, education, counseling and psychology, and social services. The message we send is that although contributing staff may experience territorial or other issues in relation to their work environment, within the context of Teen Court, we are all in this together for a common goal.
King County Teen Court is a volunteer services programme and its success depends on the energy, commitment, and expertise of its volunteers—both generalists and specialists. It is the director’s challenge to tap into the community resources, harness the talent of an interdisciplinary staff, and provide the vision, administrative leadership, recognition/appreciation, and motivation that sustains a high level of competence, confidence, and spirit. Individuals who are selected to staff Teen Court have extensive experience in the criminal justice and/or educational fields, relate exceptionally well with young people, and contribute a sense of safety and respect while making a positive contribution to the self-esteem of each teen participant.
Teen Court takes place several times a year. Males and females have their own sessions. All teens with approaching trial dates are issued an invitation to the next Teen Court. The director follows up with a personal call to each teen and parent/guardian to describe the programme and confirm attendance. This follow-up contact is critical to motivating a teen’s participation in Teen Court.
Teen Court is strictly an educational programme. No one discusses their individual case during the session. Our programme begins with the facilitator’s note of appreciation to our teens for attending the session, an introductory component when the girls introduce themselves and share a personal comment (e.g. their favorite television show), and a brief review of the contents of the Teen Packet—which includes an outline of their rights. This section is followed by a panel discussion facilitated by survivors who have experienced the trial process. The panelists discuss their perceptions, share helpful hints, and discuss areas of concern. They emphasize that the important thing is not whether the defendant is found guilty or not guilty, but the fact that the victim tells their story and speaks the truth in court.
Following the panel discussion, the prosecutor takes the group into a courtroom where he or she explains clearly and understandably the courtroom procedures and personnel. The girls learn specifics (e.g. which door the defendant will enter; who is allowed to observe the trial proceedings) and have an opportunity to sit in the witness chair and practice projecting their voices. Participants use their time with the prosecutor to ask all kinds of questions and express their deepest concerns. During the next programme component, while the parent/guardians have their chance to meet with the prosecutor, our relaxation specialist teaches the teens a number of relaxation techniques and exercises to enhance self-esteem and confidence.
Teen Court is a successful court awareness programme. Its objectives underscore our belief that when a young person learns about the judicial process and gains some familiarity with a courtroom, he or she is less likely to be frightened and more likely to participate fully in the process. Hence, justice can be served and the rights of all involved protected.
Source: Email interview with Donna Belin, March 22, 2011.
Tools For Creating a Teen Court Programme:
For a youth invitation to Teen Court by the King County Teen Court in Washington, USA. Available in English.
For a parent invitation to Teen Court by the King County Teen Court in Washington, USA. Available in English.
For a Teen Court agenda by the King County Teen Court in Washington, USA, click here. Available in English.
Prosecutors should work with other professionals to provide comprehensive services for victims of sex trafficking or sexual abuse by:
Protecting Child Victims
This organization protects the rights of child victims who participate in legal procedures through promoting and implementing the idea of friendly interviewing of child witnesses, creating child-friendly interview rooms, and improving the capacity of professionals who participate in legal interventions, interview children, and provide help for child victims. Source: Fundacja Dzieci Niczyje, last acc. 3-11.
The Barnahús or Children’s House, Iceland, provides child-friendly interviewing facilities through the use of toys, colourful walls, and pictures, with the aim of not subjecting victims of sexual abuse to multiple interviews. The interview can be monitored by judges, social workers, police, lawyers, and others. Barnahús also provides medical and educational assessments, treatment, and counseling. The centre acts as a forum for cooperation of relevant agencies and works to improve the expertise of those who work with abused children.
Source: Barnahús, last acc. 3-11.
Caring for trafficked persons: Guidance for health providers. (International Organization for Minors, London School for Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Trafficking in Persons, 2009). Contains a section on children and youth (p. 71). Available in English.
Guidelines on the Protection of Child Victims of Trafficking (UNICEF, 2006). Available in English.
Multi-Agency Practice Guidelines: Female Genital Mutilation (HM Government, United Kingdom, 2011). Available in English.
Busi Goes to Court (The Directorates: Publications, Community Services and Children’s Issues, Department of Justice,South Africa). A colouring book which informs child victims about special measures to make testifying in court less stressful, such as testimony via closed-circuit TV. Available in English.
Child Sexual Abuse: Intervention and Treatment Issues (Faller,1993). Available in English.
Tools for working with young survivors:
Protocolo de Atencion Legal a Victimas de Delitos Sexuales y Violencia Domestica Cometidos por Personas Menores de Edad (Sandoval et. al., 2008, Costa Rica). A protocol for legal attention to young victims of sexual crimes and domestic violence. Spanish.
Guidelines on Justice in Matters involving Child Victims and Witnesses of Crime (United Nations Economic and Social Council, Resolution 2005/20, 2005). English.
“A Full and Candid Account:” Using Special Accommodations and Testimonial Aids to Facilitate the Testimony of Children (Cunningham and Hurley, 2007, Canada). Available in English and French. Handbooks for prosecutors, judges, and others to help child witnesses provide accurate and complete evidence in court. Topics include: Overview of Issues, English and French; Testimony Outside the Courtroom, English and French; Witness Screens, English and French; Video-Recorded Evidence, English and French; Designated Support Person, English and French; Hearsay Evidence and Children, English and French; and Children and Teenagers Testifying in Domestic Violence Cases, English and French.
Testifying in Court: Choices for Youth in British Columbia (Justice Education Society, British Columbia, Canada). English. Includes a video on what to expect in the court process and other resources and links.
Good Practice Guide for a judicial approach to children/adolescent victims/witnesses of violence, sexual abuse and other crimes - Protection of their rights and securing valid evidence for the process (Asociación por los Derechos Civiles, UNICEF,2010). Available in Spanish.