Young girl using visual aids in an alleged sexual abuse case

Lucy was 6 years old and attended a mainstream school. She needed to give evidence in court about alleged sexual abuse, having disclosed details some months before in a videoed interview. The DVD was in place of the written statement that an adult with no difficulties would have provided. Although she at first appeared to be functioning as a typical child of her age, in her police interview Lucy had not understood some adult vocabulary, sentence structures and certain question types such as ‘Why did you not tell your mother before?’.

At the request of the Crown Prosecution Service, an RI visited Lucy at home and assessed her communication skills in depth. This she did in the presence of a police officer, then wrote a report on her findings. She recommended how Lucy could best be cross-examined within the constraints of her language skills. The RI also proposed the use at court of some simple visual aids to support Lucy’s narrative. These visual aids, also used at the assessment, included a small wooden doll, line drawings of furniture and some simple pictures which Lucy herself had drawn. All of these been helped Lucy to ‘anchor’ her thoughts to the places and events she described.

The RI met with judge and barristers in advance of the trial at a Ground Rules Hearing to explain her recommendations and proposed visual aids. She then sat alongside Lucy during cross-examination via a live TV link. If the barrister’s questions were too complex, the RI was empowered to advise on use of simpler phrases. At times, alternative words were suggested and in this way the process of two-way communication went more smoothly. Lucy used the visual aids when needed; and found it helpful to point to the pictures she had drawn. One was her ‘request’ for questions to be asked more slowly so she could think.