The Case For Child Testimony Reform - By Eliza
I am the mother of two children who at ages 4 and 7 had to testify in front of their father at his trial. He was convicted of raping my daughter and sentenced to 36 years imprisonment.
I am sharing our story with you in hopes that you will understand why New Mexico needs Child Testimony Reform.
It was my son’s 5th birthday when my daughter, then age 2 ½ disclosed to me that her father was touching her private parts. Though I grappled with how to wrap my head around what she had disclosed, I listened to her. I believed her. I took action. I reported it to the police.
At the Safe House exam and interview, the nurse told me the kids would have to testify and our lives would be turned upside down.
In my conversations with prosecutors and law enforcement, they told me that between 75-90 % of child sexual abuse cases fall apart and can’t be prosecuted because the young victims are too traumatized to testify in open court.
Our quest for justice was long and sometimes discouraging.
When the case was turned over to the District Attorney’s Office, I was told many times that “charges are coming,” but then I waited, and waited.
Meanwhile, my ex-husband (and children’s father) was stalking us. He possessed guns and made no secret of his plans to kill me and kidnap the children.
After a year of inaction by the District Attorney’s Office, I felt I needed to petition the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office to plead with them to take my daughter’s case. They agreed to prosecute him however, they made it clear that both children would be expected to testify in open court.
In New Mexico a child victim of sexual abuse is expected to walk into a room full of strangers, sit in the witness chair, swear to tell the truth, and set aside that this was their father whom they loved and yet had hurt them and threatened their lives if they told anyone.
I had naively assumed that the justice system was like I had seen on “Law & Order,” where the child would testify either through a closed circuit TV or in the Judge’s chambers. Prosecutors told me that if the kids couldn’t testify, there would be no case. I didn’t feel like I had a choice. Our safety and our lives were in danger.
There was no way for me to know the full impact of what I was committing them to do.
My son, who is now 8 years-old wants to change the law to help other kids not have to go through the same hell he and his sister withstood.
We are working with NM legislators to introduce Child Testimony Reform and asking our Supreme Court to change the rules that would allow protections for these young victims.
The child welfare index isn’t just a number, it’s a symbol of how a state values and treats its children. New Mexico does not rate well on the child welfare index. Let the way child victims are treated by the New Mexico criminal justices system be a strong indicator that New Mexico must improve how it protects child victim witnesses.
The brutal and sad truth is, this is how many perpetrators are able to silence their victims, because they know they will not be able to testify, and the abuse continues.
New Mexico needs to provide protections to the most vulnerable victims of in our criminal justice system. New Mexico can do better. New Mexico must do better. Support Child Testimony Reform.
Please email me at Latkinson@victimsrightsnm.org if you would like to support this legislation.