When it comes to processing a traumatic event, having to testify against one’s attacker in open court can be as traumatizing as the incident itself.
For many survivors, especially those who’ve suffered sexual abuse, testifying in court can actually amplify trauma. (Numerous studies back this up.) However, there is little that the law can do, to protect the victim from this further traumatization, since the Constitution guarantees everyone the right to a fair trial. Compounding the problem is the fact that—by its nature—the court system is adversarial.
Therefore, how is it possible to ensure a fair trial while making things a bit easier for survivors?
The answer may lie in Courthouse Dogs, who are specially trained to defuse tense environments and put trauma survivors at ease.
Unlike therapy dogs, Courthouse Dogs are trained for this line of work beginning when they are puppies. The dogs who graduate from this program are nearly immune to high-stress situations.
Retired prosecutor, Ellen O’Neill Stephens and veterinarian Celeste Walsen, run Courthouse Dogs which is based in Bellevue, Washington. The pair set up the non-profit in 2008. Currently, there are 87 Courthouse Dogs employed in 28 states and the program is starting to spread worldwide with dogs now in Chile and Canada.
As Walsen said in an interview with Upworthy:
“We count on dogs to tell us when there’s a bad guy around. So when we’re in the presence of a relaxed dog, it makes us feel that we’re in a safe place, which can lower our blood pressure and reduce anxiety.”
Hopefully, in a few years time, this will be standard practice throughout the world.
Below is a video featuring some current Courthouse Dogs.
Author: Kimberly Lo
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock
Photo: video still