Eliza A. Sultan
I am the mother of two children who had to testify to their father at their trial at the age of 4 and 7. He was convicted of rape my daughter and sentenced to 36 years in prison. The attorney general’s office has successfully pursued my daughter’s case.
The remaining psychological and emotional effects of the testimony have been disastrous for my children.
I share our story with you in the hope that you will understand why New Mexico needs child certification reform.
On my son’s fifth birthday, when I was 2½ years old, my daughter announced that her father had abused her. I dealt with what she had revealed. But I listened to her. I believed her. I have taken action. I reported it to the police.
During the safe house exam and interview, the nurse told me that the children were going to testify and our lives would be turned upside down.
In my conversations with prosecutors and law enforcement agencies, they told me that between 75 and 90% of child sexual abuse cases fall apart and cannot be prosecuted because the young victims are too traumatized to testify in court.
In New Mexico, a child who has been sexually abused is said to go into a room full of strangers, sit on the witness chair, swear to tell the truth, and put aside that this was their father, whom they loved and who they nonetheless had hurt and threatened her life when she told someone.
I had naively assumed that the judicial system was as I had seen it in Law & Order, where the child testified either on video surveillance or in the judge’s chambers. The prosecutor told me that if the children couldn’t testify, there would be no case. I didn’t feel I had a choice. Our safety and our lives were in danger.
There was no way for me to see the full effect of what I had made her do.
I learned that almost all 50 states have made legislative changes to allow for alternative testimony (such as closed circuits). In addition, in certain cases the federal courts provide for testimony for child victims. (Prokop, Danielle. December 1, 2019. When a Child’s Testimony Causes Trauma. The Santa Fe New Mexican. Retrieved from https://www.santafenewmexican.com)
My son, who is now 8 years old, wants to change the law to help other children avoid going through the same hell that he and his sister endured.
We are working with NM lawmakers to reform child certificates to protect these young victims.
The Child Aid Index is not just a number, but a symbol of how a state values and treats its children. New Mexico does not rank well on the Child Aid Index. The way child victims are treated by the New Mexico Criminal Justices System is a strong indicator that New Mexico needs to improve the protection of witnesses to child victims.
The brutal and sad truth is that so many abusers can silence their victims because they know they cannot testify and the abuse continues.
New Mexico needs to protect the most vulnerable victims of our criminal justice system. New Mexico can do better. New Mexico has to do better.
I am optimistic as Attorney General Hector Balderas has hired legal experts to strengthen the law and will provide experts to testify during the upcoming legislative term. Senator Michael Padilla has agreed to take the bill. Please contact your legislator and ask them to support the reform of child certificates.
Eliza A. Sultan is a mother from New Mexico.