about school,85 friends,86 sports, movies, or activities the child enjoys. For example, if the child
likes “Hello Kitty,” then the prosecutor may direct the conversation around that interest. If the
prosecutor and the child find they have a commonality, such as a favorite sports team, then this
can become the topic of conversation. If all the prosecutor does is talk about trial and legal issues,
the child will become disinterested quickly and trust will not be established. “Once you have
children talking at their level, you are halfway home to a successful working relationship.”87
ii. Legal education
It is challenging enough for adult victims and witnesses to walk into a courtroom filled
with strangers, a judge in powerful black robes, a box full of waiting jurors, an isolated witness
stand, and an alleged abuser. Most adult witnesses do not understand the underlying intricacies of
a trial, nor do they have knowledge of the rules of evidence, nor the impact these rules have on a
trial. If adults struggle to understand the nuances of a trial, how much more does a child struggle?
A child who is prepared for trial will be more accurate and complete in his or her
testimony during trial.88 Witnesses must tell their story two times during a trial. Once on direct
examination and a second time through cross-examination. On direct, the victim can tell his or
her story in a more or less fluid, chronological manner, with direction by the prosecutor. Cross-examination follows, which can be the most challenging part of testifying for victims.89 Leading
questions can trap witnesses into black and white answers. Defense attorneys may intentionally
ask confusing or misleading questions.90 They may even use an angry or a frustrated tone with the
The attorneys may take turns standing up and objecting and arguing. They may approach
the judge and talk under the static noise, which blocks out the conversation going on at the bench.
This experience can be a very stressful experience for children. Prosecutors can reduce this stress
by educating their child witnesses.92
Children, especially young children, do not have the capacity to fully comprehend what
goes on in the courtroom.93 Prosecutors should never assume that a child understands
something.94 Children lack the cognitive faculties to comprehend legal jargon and legal
procedures.95 They need to be taught about the courtroom and prepared for what will happen
before, during, and after a trial.96 Children must be taught in a manner that they can comprehend.
Lawyers should not assume that children can extrapolate information, nor that they have the
capacity to understand the legal rules and ethical guidelines governing the legal system.97 These
intricacies and legal underpinnings must be explained to children in a language that the child
understands98 (which will differ from child to child). This might have to be done multiple times to
ensure that the child has the opportunity to process and comprehend the information.99
87 Murray, supra note 81, at 17.
88 Cunningham & Stevens, supra note 52, at 5.
89 Id. at 14.
92 Cowan, supra note 78, at 7.
93 Karen J. Saywitz et al., Interviewing Children In and Out of Court, in CHILDREN’S TESTIMONY: A HANDBOOK OF PSYCHOLOGICAL
RESEARCH AND FORENSIC PRACTICE 349, 356 (Helen L. Westcott et al. eds., 2002).
94 Cunningham & Stevens, supra note 52, at 12.
95 Saywitz, supra note 70, at 7.