“The Child as Witness”:
Evaluating State Statutes on the Court’s Most Vulnerable Population+
By Ashley Fansher* and Rolando V. del Carmen**
The number of child abuse victims who experienced court action was nearly 140,000 in
2013.1 The National Court Appointed Special Advocates For Children (CASA) estimates that
“each year, approximately 100,000 children testify in the United States either in criminal, civil, or
2 Even in cases of suspected child abuse or neglect, children are almost always
required to testify about their experience with few exceptions.
3 Children of all ages are
approaching the bench, being sworn in by a judicial officer, and are asked to sit in a room full of
adults to discuss potentially traumatizing and embarrassing events of their victimization. The
average adult is intimidated by the criminal justice system and is generally not knowledgeable
about court proceedings.
4 The system is even more perplexing for children, especially when asked
questions far above their developmental level.
The dubious impact of child witnesses dates back to the Salem Witch Trials, where
approximately twenty defendants were executed, with many more spared due to false confessions
after allegations of witchcraft.
6 The punishments were based on compelling testimony from a
group of girls, ages five to sixteen, who claimed to have witnessed, and been victim to, witchcraft.
Adults of the time believed that children embodied an innocence that increased their credibility
and allowed them to see evils that adults could not.
+ +A previous version of this article was presented at the 2015 Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences in Orlando,
* Ashley Fansher is a Doctoral Teaching Fellow in the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at Sam
Houston State University. She obtained a B.S. and M.S. degrees in Criminology from Missouri State University, along
with a graduate certification in Forensic Child Psychology.
** Rolando v. del Carmen is a distinguished and Regents Professor, College of Criminal Justice, Sam Houston State
University. He obtained B.A. and L.L.B. degrees from the Philippines, an M.C.L. from Southern Methodist University,
an L.L.M. from the University of California-Berkeley, and a J.S.D. from the University of Illinois. He is the co-director
of the Institute for Legal Studies in Criminal Justice at Sam Houston.
Correspondence concerning this article should be directed to Ashley Fansher, Department of Criminal Justice and
Criminology, Sam Houston State University, P.O. Box 2296, Huntsville, TX, 77341. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone: (936) 294-3638
1U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, CHILD MALTREATMENT 2013 86 (2014).
2Rationale and Methods for Preparing Children for Success in the Courtroom, COURT APPOINTED SPECIAL
ADVOCATES (Sept. 2012),
4Karen J. Saywitz, Gail S. Goodman, & Thomas D. Lyon, Interviewing Children In and Out of Court: Current
Research and Practice Implications, THE APSAC HANDBOOK ON CHILD MALTREATMENT 349, 358-59 (2002)
[hereinafter Saywitz et al].
6STEPHEN J. CECI & MAGGIE BRUCK, JEOPARDY IN THE COURTROOM: A SCIENTIFIC ANALYSIS OF CHILDREN’S
TESTIMONY 8 (Bruce Sales, ed.1995) [hereinafter CECI & BRUCK].