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Psychosocial aspects of the Involvement of children in Judicial
Introduction:Overview of the presentation
Children as victims of trafficking
relationship between vulnerability and consequences of trafficking for children
Psychological impact of trafficking on children Trauma and its consequences Psychosocial Needs of child victims
Child victims as witnesses Rights of children as witnesses Key elements for protection, support and prevention of re-
traumatisation of child witnesses Credibility of child witnesses - appropriate questioning in Court
A. Children as victims of trafficking
Interconnected vulnerability factors determine risk for children:
Combination and interaction of factors
Increased risk to become a victim of trafficking, in its different forms
But also increased impact of trafficking experience few coping mechanisms, increased victimisation decreases chances for successful reintegration trauma can be reinforced by previous traumatic
experiences Important to understand vulnerability:
To identify psychosocial needs of children To tailor protective measures for child witnesses To prevent re-trafficking
Violence and trauma as a vulnerability factor
Many child victims have history of abuse before ‘recruitment’:
They often lack skills to cope with stress, to confront pressure and violence, to be assertive.
They often lack skills to distinguish between genuine caring and abusive relationships.
They often lack skills to protect themselves from a repetition of the abuse.
B. Psychological impact of trafficking on children
Understanding impact is crucial
To be able to decide on appropriate protective and re-integrative measures
To understand reactions of child victims and the difficulties they might experience as witnesses
To judge the credibility of the testimony of child witnesses
Trafficking experience has very often a severe impact on physical and psychological well-being of the child.
Because of impact of poor living conditions, forced labour, sexual exploitation, violence and abuse.
Because of separation from family and/or attachment figures, deception.
Because of stigmatisation and difficulty to reintegrate.
Trauma as a consequence of trafficking
Child victims, especially victims of sexual exploitation, go very often through a series of traumatic events that:
Are perceived as life threatening Make the child feel powerless, extremely anxious
and out of control
Traumatic events are so overwhelming That the normal coping mechanisms of the child fail That information processing (perception, memorisation
and recalling of events) is disrupted A ‘traumatic memory’ consists of images, sensations,
fragments A ‘normal memory’ consists mainly of a story of what
Previous traumatic experiences reinforce trauma of trafficking
Signs of trauma: development of behavioural, cognitive and emotional problems
Depending on developmental stage:
Age 0-5: increased crying, being frightened, clinginess, failure to
grow, nightmares, sleeplessness Age 6-12:
Aggressive or sexualised play, afraid to sleep, nightmares, bed wetting, refusing to talk, regression (acting like a baby), headaches, stomach aches
Age 13-19: Refusing to talk about feelings, fantasies of revenge,
depression, eating disorders
Other psychological problems that might occur as a result of trafficking
Problems with attachment, loss of basic trust Can block reintegration in the family and community
Aggressive behaviour, disturbance of moral development and value system, substance abuse Can lead to delinquent behaviour
Feelings of shame and guilt, low self-esteem Can hamper future development, also impacts on
collaboration with law enforcement officials
Development of survival and defence mechanisms
Memory suppression Forgetting the emotional stress experienced during
traumatic events is a way to keep the pain away Importance of triggers
Dissociation ‘as if it was someone else’, apathy, indifference
Denial Minimising or denying the reality of the events
Survival mechanisms can impact on involvement of child victim as witness
What do children need to recover from trafficking? Basic conditions for recovery
Safety: physical and psychological safety are a crucial condition to start process of recovery
need for individual assessment of the child before decisions concerning his future are made
Need for protective measures
Time: trauma does not heal spontaneously, even with intensive support a child will need time to recover
Need for access to multidisciplinary and intensive support adapted to the child’s level of development
Respect for the child and its rights Need to hear child views, understanding of the
psychological impact of trafficking
C. Child victims as witnesses
“Child victims are particularly vulnerable and need special protection, assistance and support appropriate to their age, level of maturity and unique needs in order to prevent further hardship and trauma that may result from their participation in the criminal justice process”
UN guidelines on Justice in Matters involving Child Victims and Witnesses of Crime
UN (ECOSOC) guidelines on Justice in Matters involving Child Victims and Witnesses of Crime
Right to be treated with dignity and compassion Taking into account children’s personal situation and
immediate needs, age, gender, level of maturity, wishes and feelings…
All interactions should be conducted in a child-sensitive and empathic manner in a suitable environment.
Right to be protected from discrimination Implies taking account of the different nature of particular
offences, such as sexual assault Implies that age should not be a barrier to the child’s right to
be treated as a capable witness
Right to be informed Of availability of health, psychological and social services Of progress and disposition of a case Of availability of protective measures
Right to express views and concerns and to be heard Ensure that children are enabled to express freely, and in
their own manner, their views and concerns regarding their involvement in the justice process, the manner in which they prefer to provide testimony, their safety…
Ensure that children are involved in the decision to be a witness and have time and information to take this decision
Right to effective assistance Implies support commencing at the initial report and
continuing until these services are no longer required
Right to privacy Measures should be taken to exclude public
and media from the courtroom
Right to safety Measures to protect the child from risk before,
during and after the justice process In case of intimidation, threats or harm,
appropriate conditions should be put in place to ensure safety of child (avoiding contact with accused, restraining orders…)
Right to special preventive measures Special strategies are required for particularly
vulnerable children and in cases where there are risks of further victimisation to child victims, taking into account the nature of the victimisation, like abuse, sexual exploitation and trafficking.
Right to be protected from justice process hardship Accompanying the child throughout his or her
involvement in the justice process Providing certainty about the process Using child-sensitive procedures, interview rooms
designed for children, interdisciplinary services for child victims, recesses during testimony
Limiting the number of interviews Avoiding unnecessary contacts with the alleged
perpetrator, his/her defence team Questioning of children out of sight of the accused Use of testimonial aids in court, control of questioning
Key elements for protection, support and prevention of re-traumatisation
Protection is about safety and creating a feeling of safety By giving as much control as possible over the process
to the child Hearing the child’s views
By informing the child about the process Need for good preparation
By avoiding unnecessary stress Use of videolink, pre-taped testimony Avoiding unnecessary contact with the accused Guardian or support officer should accompany child
Support in pre-trial, trial and post trial phase
Pre-trial Support should be coordinated and start upon
identification of child as a victim Appointment of a guardian An assessment of the psychosocial status of child
(including history and possible future solutions) should be made of every child, prior to involvement in court proceedings
Recovery time before taking a decision on involvement in judicial process
Psychosocial support should be focused on re-establishing safety and trust
Need for detailed explanation of courtroom procedures
Trial phase Guardian or support person should accompany child
through all stages of proceedings Minimise number of interviews, only interviews by
trained staff, building up rapport with child Testifying can be empowering for a child if carried out in
a way adapted to child’s level of development Testifying about traumatic events in a stressful
environment can cause an exacerbation of symptoms of trauma.
Need for developmentally appropriate questioning in court.
Post-trial Child should be informed about outcome of
proceedings. Child should be involved in all decisions concerning
its future, also concerning potential reintegration in family (not always the best option!).
Recommendations from assessment should be followed up.
Appropriate assistance for children with special needs should be available as long as possible.
Focus on normalisation.
Developmentally appropriate questions for child witnesses
Questioning children in court, in a way that is adapted to their level of development, is crucial in order to ensure a credible testimony and to avoid retraumatisation. inappropriate questioning confuses children and makes
them unable to communicate accurately what happened.
When children are questioned properly, most of them can be very effective witnesses.
Judges play a critical role in monitoring the questioning.
Need to understand the development of a child in three domains linguistic, cognitive and emotional
Need to understand impact of trauma on development of a child Trauma can affect specific fields of
development Can cause a delay in the general linguistic,
cognitive and emotional development! Child that is stressed or upset might
Middle Childhood (Age 7 – 10)
Linguistic development: Language ‘sounds’ adult-like but the child does
not have the vocabulary of adults Difficulties understanding legal terms Misinterpreting questions involving negatives Difficulties with complex and long sentences:
their short term memory may not be developed enough to allow them to remember the beginning of a long sentence.
Need to keep questions short.
Cognitive development Child cannot apply logical processes to ideas
E.g. “what happens when people tell lies?” is more difficult than “What if you told a lie?”
E.g. “what does it imply to depart from the truth?” Child cannot accurately estimate distances or sizes
E.g. “How wide was the window in the house?” E.g. “How wide would the window be in comparison with
the screen you see here in front of you?” Child cannot compare periods of time
E.g. “ Did you live on street X three or four years ago? Child uses numbers often in a very rough way
Emotional developmentChild might become emotional or shy if
it is upset, answers become shorterAvoid direct questions about the child
body or embarrassing questions
Adolescence (Age 11 – 18)
Up to age 14, adolescents may still have many of the cognitive capacities of school aged children.
Even after age 14, their level of development is not equal to that of adults.
It continues to be important to keep the stage of development in mind when questioning an older adolescent witness.
Linguistic development of Adolescents
Continued development during this stage is dependent on education!
Without education adolescents enter adulthood at a school aged level of linguistic development.
Vocabulary continues to grow, still difficulties with legal jargon.
Still difficulties with complex forms of negation and the passive voice.
Cognitive development of Adolescents
Adolescents learn to think abstractly and understand generalisations.
They can think about hypothetical situations, about their own thinking processes and about motives of other people.
They can think about and fully understand ethics. In later adolescence, children can accurately estimate
times, distances and physical dimensions. However, they take less note of dates and time than
adults! This should not impact on their credibility as a witness.
Emotional and social development of adolescents Adolescence = struggle with identity and self-
image Adolescents are easy to ‘destabilise’ Confusing and embarrassing questions might
lead to negative reactions, refusal to answer or to an emotional outburst
“Developmentally Appropriate Questions for Child witnesses (1999), 25 Queen’s L.J. p 251 – 302Prof. Schuman, Bala, Lee. http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=198969
Suggestions Include an ‘introductory phase’
Start with questions about neutral events to make the child feel more comfortable and to assess its level of development and capacity to understand questions and to remember events.
• E.g. “tell me about your first day at school/birthday…” Insert questions about the oath in this introduction
Build up questions, starting with simple ones Avoid long questions, negatives and passive
voice Teach the child to tell the judge when questions
Difference between not being a credible witness – lying – not answering accurately because the question is not adapted to the child’s developmental level!
Adults should adapt to children, not the other way around.
Trafficking has a major impact on children’s psychological development and future
These traumatic experiences are often reinforced by a combination of vulnerability factors that also decrease chances of successful reintegration
Child victims have the need and the right to receive intensive support and protection
Children can be effective and credible witnesses if: support and protection are provided the court procedures and questioning are
adapted to their stage of development.