July 5, 2000 Philadelphia, Pa. -- Recommendations for collecting forensic evidence of sexual abuse in young children should be adapted to reflect actual patterns of abuse in children, according to child abuse experts at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. More appropriate guidelines could benefit the child victims, while being more likely to yield evidence of the assault, suggest the researchers in the July issue of Pediatrics.
The researchers analyzed the medical records and police crime lab reports on 273 children under age 10 who came to emergency departments at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and two other Philadelphia hospitals between 1991 and 1996.
They found that swabbing the child's body for evidence of semen and sperm was done 95 percent of the time, but yielded no positive results more than 13 hours after an assault. "Because such swabbing is uncomfortable for recently traumatized children, and yields negligible results if not done quickly after an assault, we propose swabbing the body should not be done more than 24 hours after the assault," says Cindy W. Christian, M.D., medical director of Child Abuse Services at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and lead author of the study.
"On the other hand, there were much higher yields of forensic evidence on the child's clothing and household linens, and we suggest that these items should be aggressively pursued for examination." The majority of forensic evidence (sperm, semen or blood) detected was found on clothing and linens, even though only a third of the children had clothing collected as part of the evaluation.
The study was the first one to examine forensic evidence data in children below the age of puberty who suffered sexual assaults. "Many of the current guidelines for evaluating children closely follow recommendations for evaluating adult rape victims," says Dr. Christian. "However, child sexual abuse is different from adult rape. Our findings suggest that guidelines for medical evaluation and evidence collection should be adapted for young children."
The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, the nation's first children's hospital, is a leader in patient care, education and research. This 373-bed multispecialty hospital provides comprehensive pediatric services, including home care, to children from before birth through age 19. The hospital is second in the United States among all children's hospitals in total research funding from the National Institutes of Health.
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