In one study published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 1993, New York child witness expert Stephen J. Ceci estimated that as many as 100,000 children end up participating in family court or criminal justice proceedings in the state of New York alone.
"A very large number of kids join the court every day all over the U.S.," said Ceci, who is professor of developmental psychology at Cornell University.
"The number is quite high."
"There has been a lot of research looking at the impact of testimony in open court by children," Ceci
told ABC News
The problem, according to Ceci
, is that by its nature, sexual assault is a "very private act" and if a child is not available to testify against the assailant, the case is rarely prosecuted.
"There is never a third party witnessing it."
But without child witnesses, assailants often go on to repeat the crimes, sometimes against the same victims, said Ceci
"Because both sides want to win, having a child on the stand isn't easy," he
"Defense attorneys can confuse a child, harass a child and create conditions so in the closing arguments the child's testimony looks inconsistent.
It's the same for the prosecution."
One of the ways courts make it less stressful on children is to shield them by putting a barrier with a one-way screen between the child victim and the defendant so the jury and those in the courtroom can see the testimony, but the child cannot.
"A lot of defense attorneys don't like that," said Ceci
"To make a one-way screen, you put a spotlight on it and it looks like the glare of the police headlight and makes a spectacle and easier to convict.
It makes the defendant look like he
is on display and doesn't taint the child's demeanor."
Sometimes courts use closed-circuit television in a judge's chambers so the jury can hear testimony.
"None of these things are ideal," said Ceci