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Lawsuits claim South Carolina kids underwent unnecessary genital exams during abuse investigations

Lauren Sausser, KFF Health News on

Published in Health & Fitness

The South Carolina lawsuits — which involve children who live in different parts of the state and who were assigned to different social services caseworkers — aren’t the first to raise red flags about the potentially harmful effects of forensic medical exams on children. Since the 1990s, federal courts from New York to California have ruled that government agencies violate children’s and parents’ civil rights when the exams are conducted without a court order or parental consent.

Claims that the exams are comparable to normal pediatric checkups are “garbage,” said Donnie Cox, a civil rights attorney in Carlsbad, California.

“At the time they’re happening, they’re scary as hell and it really does traumatize children on top of the trauma of being removed from their homes,” said Cox, who has represented plaintiffs in similar lawsuits. “They’re using these kids, basically, as pieces of evidence, and you can’t do that.”

‘A Fishing Expedition’

In one South Carolina lawsuit, a 16-year-old girl claims she was subjected to painful vaginal exams against her will, even after she denied being sexually abused. She felt as if she was “being raped” during the forensic medical exam, her complaint asserts.

In another lawsuit, a couple living in the north-central part of the state allege their sons were subjected to genital and rectal exams, without the parents’ knowledge or consent, more than a month after the children had been removed from their home in 2021. Their oldest son bruised his arms on playground equipment, they contend, instigating a child abuse investigation that resulted in all three boys temporarily moving in with their grandparents. Their youngest son was 6 months old at the time.

 

No one alleged during the investigation that the boys had been sexually abused, the lawsuit states, and yet the boys’ “penises were held and touched by strangers” during the forensic exam and “fingers and/or instruments were placed in their anus,” the lawsuit states.

The parents, whose names KFF Health News chose to withhold to protect the identity of their children, said their middle child suffers from night terrors because of the forensic examination. The oldest doesn’t talk about what happened in the exam room, his mother said.

“Because we didn’t know” what was going to happen, she said, “nobody could prepare him.”

Attorneys Deborah and Robert Butcher of the Foster Care Abuse Law Firm, who represent plaintiffs in all three South Carolina cases, have likened these forensic medical exams to “a fishing expedition.” One lawsuit they filed against the Department of Social Services argues the agency is financially motivated to find evidence of any form of child abuse so that it qualifies for more money from the federal government.

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©2024 KFF Health News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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