victims. Physical signs of trauma include trouble sleeping, headaches, under- or over-eating, and
anxiety.50 Depression can also be a sign of trauma.51 Testifying requires children to recall these
traumatic events. When a victim recalls a traumatic event, he or she may experience physical and
emotional reactions just as when the event originally occurred.52 These types of reactions may
cause fight, flight, or freeze reactions.53 The child may experience anxiety or fear.54
In the legal system, abuse is defined as a crime and may be punished as a felony.55 In
reality, abuse is more than a crime; it is a traumatic event with repercussions surpassing the
sparse accommodations the legal system provides for victims.56 This is why prosecutors need to
have knowledge of ACEs and their effects. Ignorance only leads to continued and further
suffering of child victims.
Prosecutors should be aware of behaviors indicative of abuse. This information is
valuable and may greatly aid prosecutors in handling the case. For example, it can corroborate or
bolster the child’s statement of abuse.57 When a child is having behavioral problems and the
prosecutor determines that this information would be useful for a jury to hear, the prosecutor
needs to consider using an expert witness.58 Prosecutors must keep in mind that responses to
abuse cannot be used to conclude that abuse has occurred.59 Responses are indicative, not
The range of reactions that children have to abuse is vast, so this is neither an exhaustive
nor exclusive list. Moreover, behaviors that can result from abuse are variable and unique; they
may even be counterintuitive.61 Children can have reactions that are behaviorally, cognitively,
and emotionally based.62 For example, children may act lovingly toward their abuser, they may
act older than their age (as if they were a parent), or they may become anxious when separated
50 How Crime Victims React to Trauma, NAT’L CTR. FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME (2008),
51 Christine Heim et al., The Link Between Childhood Trauma and Depression: Insights from HPA Axis Studies in Humans, 33
PSYCHONEUROENDOCRINOLOGY 693 (2008), available at
52 Alison Cunningham & Lynda Stevens, Helping a Child Be a Witness in Court, CTR. FOR CHILD. & FAM. IN THE JUSTICE SYS. 17–19
(2011), available at http://www.lfcc.on.ca/Helping_a_Child_Witness.pdf.
53 Id. at 17–18.
54 Id. at 18.
55 To this Author’s knowledge, child abuse is a crime in all fifty states. See, e.g., ALA. CODE § 26-15-3 (2015) (making it a felony to
torture, willfully abuse, cruelly beat, or otherwise willfully maltreat any child); see also 42 U.S.C. § 5119 (2012) (requiring the
reporting of child abuse crime information in each state).
56 See generally Felitti et al., supra note 16 (finding numerous negative health outcomes in adults who experienced abuse and neglect);
The Trauma of Victimization, NAT’L CTR. FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME,
http://www.victimsofcrime.org/help-for-crime-victims/get-help-bulletins-for-crime-victims/trauma-of-victimization (last visited Apr. 15, 2015) (listing and discussing negative outcomes of trauma);
Astrid Heger et al., Children Referred for Possible Sexual Abuse: Medical Findings in 2384 Children, 26 CHILD ABUSE & NEGLECT
645, 651–54 (2002), available at http://ac.els-cdn.com/S0145213402003393/1-s2.0-S0145213402003393-main.pdf?_tid=9832137a-
df8c-11e4-abe8-00000aab0f6b&acdnat=1428675747_d6db7efe695cd6a04b0ea5463b4d1897 (discussing possible negative health
outcomes for child sex abuse victims).
57 NAT’L CTR. FOR PROSECUTION OF CHILD ABUSE, INVESTIGATION AND PROSECUTION OF CHILD ABUSE 16–17 (Arthur T. Pomponio
et al. eds., 3d ed. 2004).
58 See discussion infra Part III (discussing expert witnesses).
59 NAT’L C TR. FOR PROSECU TION OF CHILD ABUSE, supra note 57, at 16.
61 JERRY J. BO WLES ET AL., NAT’L COUNCIL OF JUVENILE & FAMILY COURT JUDGES, FAMILY VIOLENCE DEPT., A JUDICIAL GUIDE TO
CHILD SAFETY IN CUSTODY CASES 6 (2008), available at http://www.ncjfcj.org/sites/default/files/judicial%20guide_0_0.pdf.