The decision to pursue criminal charges, if the evidence supports such, is sometimes a difficult one for parents to make. Ultimately, you will have to determine what’s best for your child. Will participating in the prosecution, regardless of the outcome, help him or her recover from the trauma of sexual abuse? Does she or he believe that recovery is dependent upon the abuser’s conviction? Do you?
In order to make the best decision for your child, be as aware as possible of your own beliefs about and expectations of the criminal justice system. Talking with the prosecuting attorney about possible outcomes can help you prepare yourself and your child for the trial process and the verdict. And, remember, you and your family will not be alone. Read the document Tips for Advocating for Your Child in the Legal System.
The State Attorney’s Office in the judicial circuit where the abuse occurred decides if the evidence provided by law enforcement is sufficient to prosecute and win a case at trial. As a parent, you can decide whether or not you want your child to testify. However, the child’s testimony is often essential for a successful prosecution, so if the prosecutor determines the case is unwinnable without your child’s testimony, the case will not generally go to trial.
Much of the support you and your child receive before and during a trial also will be available to you afterward, regardless of the outcome. If your child’s abuser is found not guilty, or receives a light sentence, you may feel angry and disheartened, along with those who supported you and your child throughout the process. Though the trail may be over, your child’s and your family’s recovery can and should continue. Advocacy, support and counseling services from your local rape crisis/sexual assault treatment center is independent of the criminal justice system, and you can and should seek ongoing services from your local center.
If your child’s abuser received a short sentence, there are steps you can take to protect your child and your family before and after the abuser is released. The local Children’s Advocacy Center and rape crisis/sexual assault treatment center can help you identify and take those steps. Please visit our resources section at the back of the Guide for a list of Florida children’s advocacy centers and rape crisis/sexual assault treatment centers.