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Psychosocial aspects of the Involvement of children in Judicial Proceedings Child Trafficking An Michels

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Psychosocial aspects of the Involvement of children in Judicial


Child Trafficking

An Michels

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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

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A. Children as victims of trafficking

Interconnected vulnerability factors determine risk for children:


Lack ofeducation





Child labour


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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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Psychological impact

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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…)

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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


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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.

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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

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Emotional developmentChild might become emotional or shy if

it is upset, answers become shorterAvoid direct questions about the child

body or embarrassing questions

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

are unclear.

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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.

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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

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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.