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Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Why Hearsay Testimony May Be a Necessary Evil in Child Sexual Abuse Cases

NCJ Number
Journal of Forensic Psychology Practice Volume: 7 Issue: 1 Dated: 2007 Pages: 47-57
Terri Watters PsyD; Jocelyn Brineman B.A.; Sara Wright B.A.
Date Published
11 pages
This commentary discusses the longtime criticisms against hearsay testimony and the problems that arise when children testify in court.
In a final analysis, the dangers of allowing children to testify appear to outweigh the concerns of hearsay testimony in cases of child sexual abuse. When children testify, they not only experience anxiety, but they also become revictimized by having to relive a traumatic experience at the hands of an aggressive cross-examiner in a public setting. Without question, there are many negatives associated with hearsay testimony, but given the problems associated with the alternatives, it is argued here that this testimony has benefits that outweigh the costs. Hearsay testimony is evidence that conflicts with the defendant’s sixth amendment right to be confronted with the witnesses against him. To be admitted, hearsay testimony must be established as reliable, or demonstrate what has been termed “particularized guarantees of trustworthiness.” Regardless, hearsay testimony has found its way into the courtroom through several exceptions. Since there are several issues to consider when children testify in a legal proceeding, the allowance of hearsay testimony has been argued. Allowing hearsay testimony frees the child from actually having to appear in the courtroom. However, opponents argue that hearsay testimony can lead to several problems. This commentary outlines the arguments against hearsay testimony in court and then discusses the dangers of allowing children to testify in court. It is argued that the harmful effects of allowing children to testify outweigh the criticisms of allowing hearsay testimony. Alternative recommendations and modifications in allowing hearsay testimony for children testifying in court are provided. References


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