Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Orla taking a stand for young court witnesses

A south Belfast woman is at the forefront of a campaign to encourage others to volunteer with the NSPCC’s Young Witness Service, a project that supports young victims and child witnesses in criminal trials — many of which are sexual abuse cases.

Orla Rooney (24) said last week: “I would encourage anyone with an interest to consider getting involved in this most rewarding service. In becoming more aware of the levels of stress experienced by children and young people giving evidence in court, I gained a deeper understanding of the NSPCC’s role in providing them with much-needed support.”

On what her role entailed, Orla added: “Broadly speaking, I provide support, assistance and information to young witnesses giving evidence in criminal trials.

“Working in a supportive role, complementing parental or carer support, I maintain a confidential and safe environment for children, helping them to understand how the court operates and the expectations of the young person as a witness.”

A former service user who was subjected to four years of horrific sexual abuse by her father describes the importance of Orla’s role in the Young Witness Service: “Whenever our case got to court, we had no idea that the NSPCC’s Young Witness Service was available. I hadn’t eaten or slept in days with anxiety about what was ahead of me, so I wasn’t in good shape. On top of this, the court building itself was incredibly intimidating and sterile.

“Giving my evidence was terrifying, especially because it was so intimate in detail. But my young witness volunteer was able to sit behind me in the video link room and see what was going on. It was good to have someone with me who knew what was going on to reassure and calm me.

“At the end, the thought that I had faced him down and coped with all the questions his lawyers threw at me based on his lies was very satisfying. And the moment when the jury announced him guilty on all charges is one I shall never forget.”

NSPCC Young Witness Service manager, Janique Burden, has encouraged members of the local community to consider volunteering as a way to gain new skills and engage with young people in need.

”This is an eight-day training course, after which volunteers are required to be available at least two days per week. Not only is this a valuable service to children, but it contributes to the effectiveness of our judicial system, and enhances a variety of personal skills on the part of the volunteer.”

Anyone interested in volunteering in Belfast should contact Karen Agnew on 028 9448 7533. Closing date for applications is January 19.

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