Vanderbilt Law Review


Eleanor L. Owen

First Page



Dramatic increases in reports of child abuse and an even more alarming rise in reports of sexual abuse of children have contributed to growing media attention and public awareness of these problems. Concern for effective prosecution of the abusers, as well as for protection of the minor victims from further psychological trauma, has prompted a growing number of states to develop statutory measures that provide special protection from trauma for children during testimony at trial.The minor victim reportedly has the most difficulty facing his or her family and the defendant during testimony. Creative solutions' to this problem have been developed while balancing protection of the defendant's constitutional right to confrontation. Typically, these statutes provide for the child to testify via closed-circuit television, by means of videotaped direct testimony, or from behind a screen.

Such procedures have been deemed necessary by state legislatures primarily for two reasons. First, the state has a strong interest in criminal justice; conviction rates for juvenile sex abuse cases remain "strikingly low" while reports of abuse continue to escalate annually. Low rates of conviction have been noted by courts and psychologists as due in large part to the child's reluctance or inability to testify in open court.' If the child is psychologically able to testify at all, the quality of that testimony may weaken the state's case dramatically." The witness is better able to testify effectively and accurately when a court is authorized statutorily to permit these children to testify in unorthodox manners that shield the child from the trauma of testifying face-to-face with the defendant.