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Promoting Healing and Well-Being for Victims of Child Sexual Abuse

Thursday, April 28, 2016
Courtesy of Principal Deputy Director Bea Hanson of the Office on Violence Against Women and Courtesy of Assistant Attorney General Karol V. Mason for the Office of Justice Programs

This month, as part of Sexual Assault Awareness month, Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch announced the Justice Department’s plan to release a protocol for pediatricians, forensic nurses and other health care providers who work with children, which will offer evidence-based recommendations for caring for child victims of sexual abuse. Today, we are excited to share that the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) released the National Protocol for Sexual Abuse Medical Forensic Examinations, Pediatric (Pediatric SAFE Protocol).

As we all know, sexual violence is a serious problem that impacts all of us, and the Justice Department is committed to supporting communities across the country in their efforts to implement effective responses to support victims of sexual violence and hold perpetrators accountable. The medical forensic examination is an integral component of this response. It is designed to address victims’ health care needs and promote their safety and healing. In addition, forensic evidence collected during the examination – information gathered during the medical history, documentation of exam findings and forensic samples, if potentially available – can help facilitate case investigation and prosecution of perpetrators of sexual violence. Success in meeting these objectives depends not only on the skills and knowledge of the health care providers conducting the examination, but also the coordinated efforts of all disciplines involved in the response to victims.

In September 2004, the Attorney General released A National Protocol for Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Examinations, Adults/Adolescents (SAFE Protocol), which provides detailed, voluntary guidelines for criminal justice and health care practitioners in responding to the immediate needs of adult and adolescent sexual assault victims. In 2013, the Attorney General released a second edition of the SAFE Protocol that reflected changes in practice and technology since 2004 and emphasized the need for victim-centered care. After the release of the second edition of the SAFE Protocol, OVW heard from stakeholders in the field that there was a need for a similarly definitive document addressing the needs of child victims. Recognizing that the care of a prepubescent child following sexual abuse is significantly different than that of an adolescent or adult, OVW partnered with the International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN) to develop the Pediatric SAFE Protocol.

The Pediatric SAFE Protocol was developed through a collaborative process with national experts represented by child abuse pediatricians, pediatric sexual assault nurse examiners (SANEs), children’s hospitals, emergency departments, child advocacy centers, community and systems-based advocacy programs, law enforcement agencies and prosecutors. We also relied on the expertise of our federal partners in the Office of Justice Programs’ Office of the Assistant Attorney General, National Institute of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and the Office for Victims of Crime; FBI; and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Indian Health Service to ensure the new Pediatric SAFE Protocol would be a comprehensive guide for an immediate response to child sexual abuse.

This much awaited protocol not only provides specific guidance on forensic medical examinations, it clearly identifies the need for a coordinated community response to child sexual abuse and the roles of victim advocates, law enforcement, prosecutors, child protective services and forensic scientists in a community’s response. As Attorney General Lynch said in her speech at the National Crime Victims’ Rights Week awards ceremony, “I am hopeful that it will help bolster efforts nationwide to care for the most vulnerable victims of sexual abuse. No child should ever have to experience that kind of abuse – and no child who does should be forced to bear that burden alone.”

We hope communities across the country will use the Pediatric SAFE Protocol as a roadmap to establish, strengthen or enhance their immediate response to child sexual abuse and promote the healing and well-being of these most vulnerable victims. Communities interested in learning more about the protocol can contact IAFN for technical assistance through Kids TA, a project supported by the Office on Violence Against Women’s Technical Assistance Initiative. The Kids TA project is designed to disseminate the Pediatric SAFE Protocol and provide education and resources to all sexual abuse responders regarding the unique needs of the sexually abused prepubescent child.

IAFN and OVW are hosting a webinar on June 16, 2016, at 3:30 p.m. EDT that will provide more details on the key recommendations of the protocol. Registration information and technical assistance is available at www.kidsta.org.

The Pediatric SAFE Protocol is available at www.justice.gov/ovw/selected-publications.

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