UMEM Educational Pearls

Category: Pediatrics

Title: Sexual Assauit in Children

Keywords: Sexual Assault, Children, Herpes, Gonorrhea, Chlamydia (PubMed Search)

Posted: 12/14/2009 by Adam Friedlander, MD
Click here to contact Adam Friedlander, MD

The Emergency Department is often the first line in detecting the sexual abuse of a child.  Unfortunately, what you do or don't say/ask/test can significantly affect the legal protection of the abused child.

1. Know your region's dedicated sexual abuse center, if one exists.  These centers have personnel trained in interviewing and forensic evidence collection.  There may be different centers for children of different ages.

2. Know your state laws regarding what is and is not admissible as evidence of sexual abuse.  GC/CT urine testing (NAAT), though more sensitive than swab cultures, is not currently admissible as evidence in many states.

3. Withhold prophylactic antibiotic treatment when possible - antibiotics work well, and often eliminate evidence.  Withholding antibiotics is acceptable if the child is asymptomatic or only has very mild symptoms.

4. Any sexually transmitted disease in a child warrants further workup and investigation.  Primary genital HSV in a young child warrants testing for Gonorrhea and Chlamydia, and appropriate referral as well as police involvement.

5. Finally, if trained personnel is available to conduct the interview of a child, limit the questions you ask the child directly.  Any evidence in your note that you may have suggested something to the child in your line of questioning could negate the validity of their testimony.