Carli, Age 11
The courtroom can be an intimidating place for all of us, even confident adults. The drama of fictional trials has been played out on many popular television shows and movies, not all of which are very realistic. Imagine the paralyzing fear felt by 11 year-old Carli* who was standing in a real court room in downtown Austin. Carli was a participant in the Center’s Court Orientation program, which helps children prepare for testifying in the criminal case they have become involved in as a result of their victimization. Carli was sexually abused by a male relative whom she loved and trusted when she was ten.
Even though Carli had her mother by her side in the front row of the gallery during the introductory portion, she was unable to utter a single word for the first ten minutes of Court Orientation. When asked what her name was, she remained silent. When asked how old she was, she again remained silent. Finally, with some gentle coaxing from her mother, Carli began responding with single word answers. At this rate, Carli was not going to be able to withstand the pressure of speaking from the witness stand, much less testifying in open court while facing her alleged abuser. Center staff and volunteers who provide Court Orientation were determined to create an environment that would make Carli feel safe enough to participate.
The forensic interviewer leading Court Orientation that night took some of the pressure off of Carli by volunteering to go first. He had the District Attorney ask him questions about his day, and he modeled for Carli how answering those questions from the witness stand didn’t have to be so scary. Eventually, Carli felt ready to enter the witness stand all by herself. She impressed everyone that night when her meek little voice became bolder and more assertive as she continued answering questions into the microphone. After the questioning was over, Carli smiled and said that it wasn’t as bad as she thought it would be.
The team of professionals and volunteers who work with abused children every day at the Center for Child Protection are committed to each and every individual child who needs their help. Although Carli was terrified of the courtroom at first, Court Orientation has empowered her to be able to testify against her alleged abuser.
*names and identifying circumstances have been modified to protect the privacy of children and families.
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