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Zappala advocating for new abuse video law

Flanked by a squadron of child welfare advocates, doctors and colleagues, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. asked voters Thursday to support a constitutional amendment allowing child crime victims to testify against their abusers by video link.

“Child abuse is obviously one of the most serious crimes prosecuted by the office of the district attorney,” Zappala said, adding that “it is imperative that we prevent further trauma” by requiring victims to testify in their abusers’ presence.

The amendment on the Nov. 4 ballot would change the state constitution requirement giving defendants the right to meet their accusers face to face. Instead, new language would require only that defendants be confronted with witnesses against them.

Doing so by video link would be allowable under the new amendment, but the video testimony would likely have to be authorized through further state legislation.

Lawrence County District Attorney Matt Mangino, accompanying Zappala yesterday at the news conference in the Allegheny County Courthouse, Downtown, said child victims’ fears about testifying have led to numerous prosecutions being dropped in his jurisdiction.

He said the amendment would temper those fears while not abridging the rights of defendants.

Assistant District Attorney Laura Ditka, who heads a unit in Zappala’s office dealing with crimes against children, said even the most intellectually mature child victims have tremendous problems with facing their abusers. That, she said, makes it easier for abuse to continue.

“People pick children to victimize because children are easy to manipulate and victimize,” she said.

Susan Toback, a child psychologist with A Child’s Place at Mercy Hospital, said providing a video link would make children more likely to testify and more likely to do so accurately.

Courtrooms and criminal procedure, she said, were not designed for the sensitivities and abilities of children.

“I think the important thing here is to remember that children are not mini adults,” Toback said.


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