KITCHENER – A new book offers advice on the legal experience as more and more children suffer from sexual abuse and have to go to court to testify about their traumatic experiences.
“Child Victims in Canada’s Justice System” is written by three people, two of whom are connected to the Child Witness Center in Kitchener. The book offers advice to help young victims through the legal process and avoid further trauma as they progress through the justice system.
The book is also a useful resource for anyone who works with children or in the justice system to help them better support young victims.
“That was the kind of information I needed when I arrived,” said co-writer Jack Reynolds.
Reynolds served for 10 years as executive director of the local Child Witness Center – a role that was a big step up from his long career in senior management at Mutual Canada.
More than 500 children are referred to the center each year, which provides support, education, legal support and advocacy for child victims.
“And the number is growing every year,” Reynolds said, adding that these are just cases where police are involved.
Reynolds wrote the book with Jo-Anne Hughes, co-founder and program manager of the Kitchener center who has worked with child victims for more than 17 years, and Loree Beniuk, a social worker from Mississauga who has been involved in treatment programs and child testimony in Toronto. Region.
“I don’t see it as a book that you read cover to cover. I see it as a resource tool,” Hughes said.
The book is packed with information that the trio said would be useful to a range of professionals: child protection workers, police, lawyers, doctors, educators, victim advocates and public health workers.
Topics include signs of child sexual abuse, details on how the investigation is conducted, the justice system and how to prepare a child for the courtroom, as well as information on children’s rights. victims and available supports.
It’s also a call to policymakers on what more needs to be done to address this issue, Reynolds said. This includes more resources but also better data collection to better understand the extent of child abuse, especially with so many children and online predators.
“Certainly I think there is a lack of awareness of the prevalence of this problem,” Beniuk said.
Parents and communities can learn from the book how to better detect and prevent crimes against children, as well as how to ensure effective responses and treatment for young victims.
How to talk to children who share that they have been abused is also covered – useful information for parents and teachers. Lawsuits can be lost because of the way adults talk to children about what happened to them.
“Through no fault of their own,” Hughes said. “They are not qualified investigators. They are just trying to be helpful.
Children testifying in court are relatively new and the system continues to adapt to minimize any stress or anxiety caused by the experience. This includes changes to the courtroom, such as a special area away from the accused, and child witness programs that prepare children for what they will encounter.
“It’s just vitally important that the system doesn’t re-traumatize these kids,” Beniuk said. “The goal is to make the process as supportive and as minimally traumatic as possible.”
Being on the witness stand can make adults incredibly anxious, so those accompanying children take extra care to best prepare young witnesses.
Beniuk recalled two very different reactions from the children.
A boy who had been badly beaten by his mother’s boyfriend was taken to the courtroom ahead of time to see what it would be like. As he was just sitting on the stand, he wet his pants.
“It’s still so stressful for this little traumatized guy to be there,” Beniuk said.
Another boy was incredibly happy to be in the courtroom and tell his story to the judge.
“He came away proud of himself,” Beniuk said.
Reynolds is now reaching out to professionals and organizations that would find the book useful, including child witness programs across Ontario and Canada. The authors are keen to share essential knowledge to protect children from further harm.
“We’re working to get the book out there,” Reynolds said.
All proceeds from the book – available from Words Worth Books in Waterloo and online at Irwinlaw.com – will go to the Child Witness Center in Kitchener.