Health care workers aim to end child sexual abuse

The 4-year-old girl was transported to the Emergency Department at Greater Baltimore Medical Center directly from a crime scene where she had been sexually abused. She was incredibly anxious and confused upon arrival. Detectives were waiting on-site to interview her, and they did not want her parents in the room for the medical-forensic examination.

Imagine how scared this child was. She needed to submit to invasive evidentiary swabs and uncomfortable photos and videos, administered by strangers, without anyone she knew in the room. Thankfully, Sexual Assault and Forensic Examination (SAFE) nurses and a Child Life Specialist were there. The Child Life Specialist, Amanda, used a doll to explain what would happen during the exam and developed a trusting rapport with the young patient, distracting her with toys. The SAFE Nurse was able to swiftly collect the evidence. After the exam, the girl received a bravery certificate.

Because of the team of nurses, specialists and law enforcement, there has been some justice for this child. It doesn’t take away the abuse she suffered, but the DNA collected during that exam led to the defendant pleading guilty. A dangerous predator will spend 19 years in prison and be registered as a Tier III sex offender for life.

Cases like this one happen every single day in communities across the country. In the United States, one in 10 children will be sexually abused before the age of 18, and children with disabilities are three times more likely to suffer this kind of abuse. Confronted daily with child sexual abuse, health care workers are distinctly aware of this plight and are doing more than ever to help our children. At Pennsylvania’s Doylestown Health and Maryland’s Greater Baltimore Medical Center (GBMC), we are committed to caring for, identifying and supporting victims, as well as preventing this kind of abuse from ever occurring.

Both of our hospitals have partnered with the Beau Biden Foundation for the Protection of Children (BBF) to train our staffs and others to identify and prevent child sexual abuse. BBF was founded to continue the mission of Beau Biden to protect all children and educate them and the adults around them about how to prevent abuse. The impacts of the foundation’s work have spread far and wide, even leading to a recent partnership with the Special Olympics to ensure the safety of its athletes, called Operation Safeguard.

BBF’s impact on our hospitals and communities has been enormous. They have implemented the Stewards of Children program at GBMC to train 25 staff members of our staff, 18 of whom are now certified trainers themselves. These nurses will begin training the community in 2019. Additionally, our SAFE Program supports victims in the Baltimore County area and provides educational programs about internet safety, safe dating and addressing violence in relationships. This year, SAFE partnered with BBF to produce a Facebook Live conversation about preventing child sexual abuse, engaging with over 13,000 individuals. This kind of programming is crucial to reaching parents and kids where they are to provide them with the tools to identify and confront abuse and unhealthy relationships.

At Doylestown Health, we treat nearly 8,000 children in emergency rooms each year, so it’s critical that our staff understand the signs of child abuse. Children are often unable to speak for themselves when it comes to abuse, so we must help children find their voice and respond accordingly. Doylestown Health partnered with BBF in 2017 to train over 480 staff and community members in the Darkness to Light program, resulting in a significant increase in our ability to recognize the signs of abuse, report cases and stop abuse.

Our shared goal is to eventually provide this important training to all staff in hospital settings. Anyone who works with kids on a day to day basis should understand that child sexual abuse is a very real problem, and should have the proper training to step in when the situation calls for it. Doctors and nurses have a responsibility to care for the overall well-being of children, not just their physical health. Through our collaboration with BBF, we can set an example for other hospitals and health care organizations to take an active role in stopping child sexual abuse.

Barbara Hebel is the vice president of human resources at Doylestown Health (Twitter: @DoylestownHlth ) where she oversees patient and community education. Dr. John B. Chessare, is the CEO of Greater Baltimore Medical Center (Twitter: @GBMCHealthcare).

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