Family of Alleged Child Sex Assault Victim Doesn't Want Her To Testify

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The problem, according to Ceci, is that by its nature, sexual assault is a "very private act" and if a child is not available to testify against the assailant, the case is rarely prosecuted. "There is never a third party witnessing it."

But without child witnesses, assailants often go on to repeat the crimes, sometimes against the same victims, said Ceci.

"Because both sides want to win, having a child on the stand isn't easy," he said. "Defense attorneys can confuse a child, harass a child and create conditions so in the closing arguments the child's testimony looks inconsistent. It's the same for the prosecution."

One of the ways courts make it less stressful on children is to shield them by putting a barrier with a one-way screen between the child victim and the defendant so the jury and those in the courtroom can see the testimony, but the child cannot.

"A lot of defense attorneys don't like that," said Ceci. "To make a one-way screen, you put a spotlight on it and it looks like the glare of the police headlight and makes a spectacle and easier to convict. It makes the defendant look like he is on display and doesn't taint the child's demeanor."

Sometimes courts use closed-circuit television in a judge's chambers so the jury can hear testimony.

"None of these things are ideal," said Ceci. "There is no getting around the fact that it's very stressful. Ask anyone. Even for young adults. You have to go and tell strangers, with a man in black robes high up with a gavel about these very intimate things."

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