The Child as Witness to Homicide

Robert S. Pynoos, Spencer Eth

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114 Scopus citations


This paper describes the experiences of children who have witnessed the homicide of a parent and are then legally compelled “to tell what [they] have seen.” The witnessing of a human killing constitutes psychic trauma, and the child may exhibit symptoms of a posttraumatic stress disorder. There may also be a wide range of grief responses. Our focus is on the interplay of the child's grief and traumatic reactions, and the demands of the legal system. The horrifying loss of impulse control in the assailant, the mutilation of the victim, and the helplessness of the victim and witness continue to haunt the child. We review the issues arising from police questioning, qualification procedures, testimony in open court, and defendant sentencing. The child's efforts at mastering the trauma can be either enhanced or impeded by involvement in judicial proceedings. With more complete mastery of traumatic anxiety, the child can become a more effective witness. We argue for the usefulness of having an expert in psychic trauma to assist these young witnesses and outline legal recommendations to provide adequate mental‐health consultation. 1984 The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)87-108
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Social Issues
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 1984
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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