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Use of therapy dogs can help crime victims through testimony

For many victims of sexual abuse, facing the perpetrator in court can be a scary prospect. And because sexual abuse typically involves layers of shame, embarrassment and fear, victims often find that discussing it in court can also be very difficult.

In both criminal and civil sex abuse trials, it is sometimes necessary for victims to take the stand and give testimony. Thankfully, judges are increasingly agreeing to proposed changes that can make the court experience less stressful. As just one example, some victims find it easier to testify in the presence of a "therapy dog."

The relationship between humans and dogs is one that dates back millennia. And dogs, more than any other animal, seemingly have the capacity to aid humans with specific tasks (guiding the blind, for instance) and to provide intuitive, emotional support. For this reason, dogs are often used in therapeutic settings - especially with victims of trauma.

A recent article in the New York Times discussed the use of therapy dogs as a support tool in the courtroom. A 30-year-old woman was called upon to testify against her ex-boyfriend at his sentencing hearing. He had allegedly assaulted the woman, kidnapped her and her daughter and held them captive for months.

With the help of a 5-year-old Australian Labradoodle, the woman was able to make it through her difficult testimony. Her attacker was sentenced to at least 60 years in prison.

According to the Times, New York has allowed therapy dogs in the courtroom if they were there to support children. But this was the first case in New York City in which a therapy dog was allowed to accompany an adult witness.

In some ways, petting a dog can seem like a small thing - even insignificant. But when victims must be presented with reminders of the abuse they suffered (in order to advance a criminal or civil case), otherwise small comforts can be a lifesaver. Hopefully, therapy dogs will be used more widely to help victims as they pursue justice in court.

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