By Jamie R. Bogner, MS, LPC, CCASA Guest Blogger
A person may testify as an expert witness if they have experience, knowledge, training and education in the subject matter relating to the case. If you have worked in the field, you have been trained in the field… Therefore, you are an expert! You are educating your community on what you know well, and giving them information to take home with them. The only difference between expert witness testimony and training, is that you are in the courtroom, not a classroom, or training room.
Is it frightening? Yes!
Is it worth it? YES!
Serving as an expert witness in sexual assault and abuse cases has given me great insight into why it is so important. An expert witness is not only validating the victim, their reactions, and emotions, but also educating the entire courtroom about an issue that many people know nothing about. An issue which has many myths and misconceptions around it. Essentially you’re sharing your knowledge with the community.
Advice? I have only a little experience serving as an expert witness under my belt, but I can offer what I do know:
- READ anything and everything you can on sexual assault and abuse, and create a bibliography on all of it.
- Know that you know this material better than anyone in the courtroom and it is your job to educate them.
- For the most part, answer questions to the jury. It is the jurors who you are educating and they are the people deliberating on the facts you give them.
- It is the job of the defense to try and rattle you to make you seem less than credible. Stay calm and remember you are only there to answer questions and speak on what you know. (And you do know it well.) Keep redirecting the defense back to what you know!
- Take deep breaths in between answers, speak slowly and clearly so they jury is sure to understand all of the information you are giving them. And remember to look at the jury!
- Lastly, remember that it doesn’t matter what happens in the end. You are only there as one expert witness, and the entire trial does not depend upon your testimony alone. Feel good about the fact that because of you, people will leave that courtroom more educated than when they arrived.
Although serving as an expert witness is very intimidating, it is a very powerful tool to educate the community and assist victims. It is worth your time, and the knowledge you can offer is priceless!
Jamie R. Bogner is the Interim Executive Director and Lead Therapist for Tu Casa, Inc. She has served in the field of sexual and domestic violence victim advocacy for over 6 years in therapy and supervisory capacities. Jamie’s passion is helping both victims of trauma, and the community around them understand their symptoms and learn how to move through it.