Both children and adults may have many concerns as a court date approaches. It is important to remember that the child may be the only witness to what an offender has done. Therefore, it is also important to make sure the child victim/witness is prepared to testify in court. There are many steps that can be taken to prepare for court as well as to reduce some of the stress the young witness may be feeling.
- Do not prompt a child to discuss the offense repeatedly and do not go over the child's testimony before a courtroom appearance. Children often disclose details of an incident over time in their own time; prompting may cause trauma by forcing a child to relive an event over or by making them feel frustration that they cannot remember. Also, some topics are sensitive in nature and children, like adults, may be embarrassed to talk about them. Finally, a defense attorney may represent frequent discussions of the facts of the case as "witness coaching."
- Your child's anxiety or fearfulness about court may be lessened by knowing what to expect. That is why it is always important to speak with the Attorney for the Juvenile Officer (prosecutor) before court and arrange for a courtroom tour.
- If it is an issue, your child can be taught strategies to reduce anxiety before and while testifying. Even young children can learn relaxation exercises that can be as simple as playing with a favorite toy or mentally rehearsing their testimony. Therapy can also be beneficial. Your local Victim-Witness Assistance Program should be able to provide an list of community resources that include local therapists.
- Advise your child that telling the truth about what happened is the most important thing to do in court and right action to take.Victims of sexual abuse or exploitation may be especially sensitive about telling their story in court. Emphasize that he or she made the right choice in disclosing the abuse and that you believe him or her. Let the child know you are proud of them for taking such a big step and that regardless of what happens your feelings for him or her will not change.
- Tell your child that it is okay to say he or she is confused or does not know the answer. No one expects him or her to remember every detail or know the answer to every question.
- Remember that children often look to adults to assess a situation and to see how to react. Parents/caregivers should try to remember to control their own emotions in front of the young victim. Many individuals often find support through family, friends, or counselors.
*Adapted from the York County Virginia government website