Ex­perts: Sep­a­rate chil­dren from the ac­cused

The Star Malaysia - - Focus -

THERE are sim­ply too many op­por­tu­ni­ties for things to go wrong if a child wit­ness or vic­tim re­mains in the cus­tody of an ac­cused dur­ing a crim­i­nal trial.

Ac­cord­ing to crim­i­nol­o­gist and psy­chol­o­gist Dr Geshina Ayu Mat Saat, gen­er­ally, the sep­a­ra­tion is in the best in­ter­est of the child vic­tim and wit­ness, even if the adult ac­cused is a close fam­ily mem­ber.

“The ac­cused adult may use the lack of sep­a­ra­tion to brow­beat, phys­i­cally harm, psy­cho­log­i­cally harm, in­tim­i­date, and co­erce the child in such a way that may af­fect the pro­ceed­ings.

“This is be­cause the ac­cused adult would likely blame the child for his or her crim­i­nal ac­tions and seek ways to be­lit­tle or re­duce the child’s im­por­tance as a wit­ness, or suf­fer­ing as a vic­tim,” she ex­plains.

For the chil­dren, a court case may drag on be­fore a judg­ment is made and as such, there may be psy­cho­log­i­cal im­pli­ca­tions on these child wit­nesses.

“On one hand, they will gain a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem. But on the other, chil­dren may be sub­jected to pres­sure, ha­rass­ment, in­tim­i­da­tion, mis­lead­ing ques­tion­ing in and out­side court by lawyers and also the sus­pects in the case.

“In many cases, chil­dren feel as if they are the ac­cused in­stead of be­ing the vic­tim or wit­ness,” Dr Geshina laments.

Mat­ters be­come tricky if the sus­pect is a key fam­ily mem­ber, as it erodes fam­ily re­la­tion­ships by fos­ter­ing guilt, anx­i­ety, doubt and dis­tress be­tween fam­ily mem­bers.

“In many in­stances, the child is of­ten blamed for dis­rupt­ing fam­ily har­mony de­spite the fact that the sus­pect is more likely the cause,” she adds.

The court pro­ceed­ings can take a toll on the child, in terms of the child’s right to pri­vacy, be­ing forced to re­live the trauma as a crime wit­ness re­peat­edly and lengthy court ex­am­i­na­tions.

“These things may ne­glect the child’s need to rest and raise lev­els of ex­haus­tion. It’s also not ap­pro­pri­ate to treat the child like an adult. Re­search find­ings have also shown that chil­dren of­ten ap­pear in court not un­der­stand­ing pro­ceed­ings, the roles of the var­i­ous par­ties and their own role within this set­ting.

“In sum­mary, there is a lot of ev­i­dence on chil­dren’s ac­counts of be­ing trau­ma­tised by their court ap­pear­ances,” she con­cludes.

To en­sure the child is com­fort­able in giv­ing ev­i­dence, Dr Geshina says the en­vi­ron­ment shouldn’t have the need to see or in­ter­act with the ac­cused adult.

Nei­ther should the child be faced with other adults whose col­lec­tive at­ten­tion is on the child.

“A child’s com­fort is not solely linked to the phys­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment but also hav­ing the pres­ence of peo­ple whom the child trusts or hav­ing fa­mil­iar things in the im­me­di­ate vicin­ity.

“A re­laxed en­vi­ron­ment in a sto­ry­telling or role-play­ing mode is prefer­able than the more re­stric­tive en­vi­ron­ment, that is the cur­rent norm,” she says.

Chil­dren should also be given ageap­pro­pri­ate in­for­ma­tion about court pro­ceed­ings so that they are bet­ter pre­pared.

“That will re­duce their anx­i­ety or fear due to fac­ing an un­fa­mil­iar sit­u­a­tion or en­vi­ron­ment,” she sug­gests.

Con­sul­tant child and ado­les­cent psy­chi­a­trist Datuk Dr Lai Fong Hwa agrees that child safety comes first but notes that some­times, mat­ters can get com­pli­cated.

“It’s not easy to sim­ply sep­a­rate a child from his or her al­leged per­pe­tra­tor.

“It’s com­pli­cated be­cause there have been cases of false al­le­ga­tions of abuse by par­ties. But ev­ery al­le­ga­tion has to be taken se­ri­ously,” he says, adding that the child wit­ness or vic­tim in an abuse case should be un­der the pro­tec­tion of a wel­fare of­fi­cer.

As for whether a child is sus­cep­ti­ble to be­ing in­flu­enced in their tes­ti­monies, Dr Lai says of­ten times, chil­dren want to do what their par­ents tell them to do.

“Chil­dren are chil­dren. They can­not be in­ter­viewed with the same strin­gent pro­to­cols used for adults.

“Per­haps more per­son­nel can be trained to use bet­ter meth­ods in get­ting chil­dren to open up,” he adds.

But to pre­vent chil­dren from suf­fer­ing emo­tional trauma in the court process, Dr Lai points out that they need to be sup­ported by a coun­sel­lor.

“If you leave them alone and make them feel like they are in­crim­i­nat­ing their own fam­ily mem­bers, it will be an­other prob­lem.

“Chil­dren need to be sup­ported when they go through the court pro­ceed­ings,” he says.

Call­ing for ac­tion: Dr Geshina and Dr Lai be­lieve more should be done to pro­tect child wit­nesses and vic­tims.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.