to tell anyone about the abuse.10 During her testimony, the judge had to ask the girl to speak up
because she was talking so quietly.11 Relatives in the courtroom could be heard weeping, and one
even had to leave the courtroom.12 Hawkins was sentenced to fifty years in prison.13
These are just two examples, which give a glimpse into the world in which children are
expected to testify. They sit in the witness stand, alone. They have to talk in front of a judge,
whom they do not know. They must answer questions from both the prosecution and the defense.
The children who suffered the most are expected to remain stronger than those in the audience,
who, though not having been victimized themselves, break down crying and flee the courtroom
when overwhelmed.14 Perhaps most terrifying is that the child must do all of these things in front
of the perpetrator. The burden is on the child in the name of justice and in the name of the Sixth
Both child sexual and physical abuse are criminally sanctioned in the criminal justice
system. But in order to punish child abusers, child victims must go through the judicial process.
This process forces a victim to endure the long, arduous, and often traumatic road to and through
a trial. Sexual and physical abuse are also both adverse childhood experiences, which have been
shown to negatively impact a child’s physical and mental health.16 Prosecutors need to take an
active role to reduce the negative impact on child victims. While this prospect may seem
daunting, there are numerous interventions and techniques prosecutors can and should use to help
these child victims through the judicial process.
A. Intersection of the Sixth Amendment and Child Witness Testimony
The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides that “[ i]n all criminal
prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right . . . to be confronted with witnesses against him . . .
.”17 It is found among other rights, such as the right to a speedy trial, the right to a trial by jury,
the right to counsel, and the right to notice of a charge, and it is the right that places children on
the stand.18 The Confrontation Clause provides a defendant with a constitutional right to question
witnesses who are accusing him or her of a crime.19 This includes five-year-old children who
have been raped and abused by their fathers. When children disclose abuse, they do not realize
that their disclosure will often lead to a courtroom with powerful judges, meddlesome media
reporters, relentless defense attorneys, and a face-to-face confrontation with their alleged abuser.
Nor do they know that they will be required to repeatedly relive the nightmare they initially
In the 1980s, courts held the Confrontation Clause to mean that defendants had the right
to confront witnesses face-to-face. In Coy v. Iowa, the defendant was charged with sexually
13 Les Smith, Hawkins Sentenced to 50 Years for Child Rape, MY FOX MEMPHIS (June 19, 2014),
14 Warren, supra note 8.
15 See U.S. CONST. amend. VI (providing a criminal defendant the right to confront the witnesses against him); see also Coy v. Iowa,
487 U.S. 1012, 1020–22 (1988) (holding that the defendant’s right to face-to-face confrontation was violated because the child-witness testified behind a screen rather than in the physical presence of the defendant in the courtroom).
16 Vincent J. Felitti et al., Relationship of Childhood Abuse and Household Dysfunction to Many of the Leading Causes of Death in
Adults, The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, 14 AM. J. PREV. MED. 245, 252 (1998), available at
17 U.S. CONST. amend. VI.
19 Id. But see Maryland v. Craig, 497 U.S. 836, 859–60 (1990) (holding that a defendant’s right to confrontation is not violated when
the victim testified via one-way closed circuit television); see also Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36, 53–54 (2004) (holding that
out-of-court statements are barred under the confrontation clause unless the witness is unavailable and the defendant had a right to
cross-examine the witness).