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When the 5-year-old boy took the stand, he was asked to testify about witnessing his sister’s sexual abuse. The defense attorney tried to break him down, but the boy stood his ground. “So what you are telling us is that you never actually saw [the defendant] do anything to your sister,” the defense attorney said in the Oklahoma trial. “No, I saw him get on top of my sister and move up and down on her,” the boy said. “You asked that question before, and I told you what happened. Stop asking me the same question.” The judge agreed with the boy and sustained the objection of the witness. The boy didn’t crack. Why not? One reason: he is a graduate of the CARE Center’s court school. The Child Abuse Response and Evaluation (CARE) Center, based in Oklahoma City, opened its doors in 1993, offering counseling to victims of child abuse and their families. CARE aids in the investigation of child abuse cases and provides a three-day court school for children, familiarizing them with the court process and their role as a witness. OVERCOMING JUDGE JUDY At court school, children are taught about the roles of the judge, court reporter, attorneys, bailiff and jury, and are given a chance to explore the courtroom, sitting in the judge’s chair, the jury box and the witness stand. According to Andrea Grosvald, a staff member and forensic interviewer, the experience helps alleviate the children’s anxiety and apprehension. “Much of what children know about court is from what they’ve seen on TV and in movies,” Grosvald said. “Many children report they’ve seen Judge Judy yelling at witnesses, and that scares them. We try to help correct their misconceptions about the court process so they don’t enter the courtroom frozen with fear.” Grosvald also noted that children “get pressured to come up with an answer to satisfy an adult. We tell them the No. 1 rule is to tell the truth. If you can’t remember, that’s OK. If you don’t understand the question, tell the attorney you don’t understand, and if you don’t know the answers, it’s OK to say, ‘I don’t know.’ “ David Prater, assistant district attorney in the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s Office, said the court school has made his job easier. “If a child is able to articulate the abuse scenario in open court at a preliminary hearing, defense counsel and the defendant are able to evaluate what impact the child may have on a jury at trial,” he said. “Many times, when a child is a strong witness, it puts prosecutors in a better position to negotiate the case, resulting in a certain conviction and an increased period of incarceration for the defendant.” But CARE has raised some substantial questions from defense counsel. “There are always concerns,” said Bob Ravitz, chief public defender of Oklahoma County. “Right now our biggest usually is when they don’t videotape-record the discussions. We don’t understand that. To me, it looks like it might be rehearsed. Other than that, we haven’t had any specific instances, but there’s always concern that they should videotape the kids.” William Moffitt, immediate past president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, echoed Ravitz’s concerns. “Anytime we are doing something like this with a given witness, which may have the tendency to make the witness become more sure than they were if left alone, we need to be extremely careful,” said Moffitt of Washington, D.C.’s Asbill, Junkin, Moffitt & Boss Chartered. “If it changes the demeanor and makes the witness more sure of an answer, it can create a problem under those circumstances,” he said. Moffitt also agreed that the interviews should be taped. But Grosvald said that before CARE opened its doors, child abuse victims awaiting relief and questioning were brought to their local police station, put in hallways next to prisoners in handcuffs, and made to share elevators with prisoners in ankle chains. In an attempt to alleviate children’s fears, the police set up separate children’s rooms within the headquarters. But these proved ineffective, Grosvald said. Hoping for a better solution, the Oklahoma City Police Department teamed up with the Oklahoma County Mental Health Association in 1989, forming what would eventually become CARE. The two-story, Victorian-style house in downtown Oklahoma, home of the CARE Center, is set up to offer children a friendlier atmosphere. FURNITURE AT ‘KID LEVEL’ The CARE Center has a number of playrooms, and its interviews are designed for children. All the furniture is at a child’s eye level. Children are provided with crayons to draw on the paper-covered walls. The interviewer wears a small radio receiver, while detectives, social workers and other investigative team members stand behind one-way glass, located in a wall of the interview room, where they can listen, Grosvald said. Oklahoma County Assistant District Attorney Patricia High also said the CARE Center cuts down on the number of interviews a child must endure. “Before, children were interviewed by the Department of Human Services, the hospital, the police department three, four and five times — and that’s all been reduced to one,” she said. CARE served 840 child victims of sexual or physical abuse in 1997, 1,100 in 1998 and 1,144 in 1999 — all told, more than 5,000 since it opened. The majority of the children are 3 to 6 years old, according to Grosvald.

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