n Child Abuse Research in South Africa - Child and youth art as an aid in forensic law

Volume 12, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 1562-1383



Art is developing as a specialisation - forensic art - which enlarges the traditional fields of evaluation and treatment. Therapeutic art is a form of psychotherapy which has its origins in various disciplines (including medicine, nursing, psychology, psychotherapy, social sciences, education and the arts) and which aims to permit the communication of matters which can normally not be expressed in words. Traumatic effects are often solved by means of visual, non-verbal narratives which are "translated" in a context of forensic therapy. Individual messages need to be interpreted in order to obtain insight and to understand the piece of art. In order to understand art, the metaverbal meaning of a piece of art must be expressed in words. Forensic art can be used as an alternative therapeutic technique to support and empower the victims of violent crime. It can be employed together with the existing crisis intervention and trauma counselling techniques, and can be of service both to the victim and to the criminal justice system. Officers of the law can use the art produced by victims as an aid in the legal process. In this way, they obtain deeper insight into the course of events during the criminal incident as well as during forensic investigations. They can use this insight to determine the psychological and emotional impact of the crime on the victim, since the cognitive content is indicative of the nature and severity of the crime. Forensic art integrates the practice of therapeutic art with forensic investigations, procedures and standards, and in this way becomes an aid to the resolution of legal disputes. Facts can be established, while information central to the investigative process is being gathered, by making use of their creative expression. The focus is on the collection of information, and also on distinguishing between the truth and falsity of this information by obtaining factual proofs. In the therapeutic context, the therapist provides support and intervention, usually at the conclusion of the investigative process. The establishment of thoughts and feelings is an integral part of the clinical process, while the forensic process is directed towards objectivity, facts and the quest for truth. Forensic practices are regulated by ethical and legal aspects which can be expanded to include the collection and preservation of data.

This article investigates the extent to which the art of children and young people can be applied in a forensic context. Case studies are used to focus on the potential and the forensic value to the criminal justice system of the art of young victims of crime. This applies particularly to the psychological impact of victimisation, in that these young victims are empowered when an effective means of communication is provided for their use.

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