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Stephanie Villafuerte Featured in Judaism of the Foothills 2011-12 Lecture Series

By Jennifer Orton Subscribe to RSS | January 13th 2012 | Views:

"Sadly far too many children in our society are not only victims of crime but also witnesses," says Stephanie Villafuerte, Executive Director of the Rocky Mountain Children's Law Center.Children most frequently become victims or witnesses to crime when there is domestic violence in the family home. Domestic violence is defined as physical or emotional abuse of one partner by another. When domestic violence becomes severe enough, police authorities are notified, a parent is arrested and a court case is filed. It is not uncommon for police at the scene to find children who have witnessed the violence of one parent upon another. "When a child is listed as a witness or a victim of crime it is incumbent upon the criminal justice system to protect that child," says Stephanie Villafuerte." "It is important to understand that the abuse that children view or suffer directly is often times compounded by the lack of regard for child in the criminal justice system."Villafuerte, a former career criminal prosecutor, specialized in helping child victims and witnesses in the courtroom. Villafuerte served as a Chief Deputy District Attorney in the Denver District Attorney's Office where she ran the Family Violence Unit. This unit was designed to specially handle crimes against children and to aid child witnesses. Villafuerte says, "Prosecutors try to keep children out of the courtroom if possible." "There are ways to resolve cases short of having a child testify." "If cases cannot be reconciled, however, the result will be that a child has to come to court and describe what it is they have experienced."Over the years the criminal justice system has become much more aware of how to guide child witnesses through the court process. Villafuerte says, "The law has expanded so as to allow certain categories of child victims and witnesses to testify through close circuit television, video tape deposition and even allow use of their statements through hearsay testimony." "However, those options are not available to every child and when that occurs it is incumbent upon the prosecutor to take the lead in guiding the child through the court system."Villafuerte says, "The first thing that needs to happen is that a child must get to know the prosecutor who will be calling them as a witness." "That person must explain their role and the type of questions that they will be asking of the child." "They also must remain on the case." "It is not fair to the child to substitute lawyers on such sensitive cases." "In addition every jurisdiction should provide some sort of programming which prepares a child witness for the courtroom." "In Denver we had a specialized curriculum called Court School in which children were allowed to go into an empty courtroom and play the role of a witness, a judge or even a court reporter." "It gave the child familiarity with the courtroom before they actually testified." Finally, it was common practice for us to provide a child with a victim advocate or another trusted adult who could be present during their testimony." "This often served to reduce the anxiety faced by the child witness," Villafuerte said. In many major cities, police departments and district attorney's offices have specialized units that are tasked with specifically handling child witnesses. The benefit of such specialty units is that they have trained members who understand how to speak with children and understand how best to work with them.In addition, many judges and courts across the nation are learning more about how to accommodate children in the courtroom. Stephanie Villafuerte says, "Judges and magistrates are learning the necessity of using age appropriate language in court, children's developmental stages and the possible effects that testifying has on children." "As a result children are questioned in a child friendly manner and are often times given frequent breaks during their testimony." While the criminal justice system has vastly improved its response to child witnesses, the impact of testifying on children is still substantial. Villafuerte says, "We need to ensure that children are provided support both in and out of the courtroom." "Children are greatly impacted when they are a witness to or a victim of crime." "The care they need does not end just because a case is closed."

Jennifer Orton - About Author:
Jennifer Orton is an avid writer who writes on a variety of topics including, but not limited to Stephanie Villafuerte. She has written many popular articles. She also does research work for various companies and people.

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