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Save The Children Says "we Need To Do Better" For Child Victims In Court Process

Save the Children is calling for a complete overhaul of the way the Justice System treats children following a damning report released today showing evidence of children being brutally re-traumatised and blamed for sexual abuse during court proceedings and treated as untrustworthy witnesses due to being a child.

Save the Children New Zealand Advocacy and Research Director Jacqui Southey says the treatment of children in court revealed in the report ‘That’s a Lie’, commissioned by Chief Victims Adviser Kim McGregor, is a deliberate and outright violation of children’s rights.

"We are shocked at the cruel way child victims of sexual abuse have been treated in court. Other inquiries such as the Family Court review have also found poor outcomes for children in the Justice System. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has also recommended further actions to address the safety and justice needs of women and children in the family court, particularly those who are victims of domestic violence.

"It is unconscionable that children should be treated with such distain and hostility, blamed for the abuse they have endured, and implied as being untrustworthy witnesses. The retraumatising of child victims does little to encourage a child to speak up about abuse, or their family to subject them to such a traumatic experience on top of what they have already endured, contributing to the secrecy and shame and under reporting of sexual abuse.

"New Zealand has a shamefully high level of abuse of children, experienced by around one in four females and one in ten males. It is even more shocking when we consider that sexual abuse is known to be highly underreported. We need to do better for our children."

Ms Southey says the release of this week’s new Strategy Te Aorerekura and Action Plan to eliminate family and sexual violence comes with the hope of being able to bring about real change in reducing our shameful levels of family and sexual violence.

Says Ms Southey: "Yet it is difficult to see how the Strategy will be successful while child victims of sexual abuse are treated so brutally. Children should not be pitted against their abuser when the power imbalance is already so skewed against the child.

"If we really want the abuse of children to end in New Zealand, it is up to us as adults to see and treat children as equals, listen to and uphold their voices, and put their protection and wellbeing first. This is our responsibility. It is vitally important that adults in positions of power such as judges and lawyers understand their responsibilities to children."

Save the Children is calling for all court staff to be better trained in understanding children’s rights and required to respect and uphold their rights throughout the justice process, including in court.

Says Ms Southey: "We urge Minister Faafoi to prioritise actions to improve the treatment of children in court, such as requiring and allocating funding for children rights training for lawyers and judges, to establish alternative ways of hearing evidence from child victims, and to hold court professionals treating children in this manner to account."

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