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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

“They’re going to use every means possible to build a case,” Robert Butcher said. He estimated “easily thousands” of children in South Carolina have been forced to get unnecessary exams during child abuse investigations in recent years — an approximation he made based on child protective services intake data.

Ragley, the Department of Social Services spokesperson, said the agency is required by state law to follow the South Carolina Child Abuse Response Protocol to determine when children should be referred for a forensic medical evaluation, which includes “a complete and thorough medical history from the child (if verbal) and caregivers and a head to toe physical examination, including the anogenital area.”

In response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by KFF Health News, the department said it couldn’t estimate how many forensic medical exams are conducted on children of any age in South Carolina each year.

“That is not a question SCDSS can answer,” Kaitlin Stout, the agency’s manager of policy and practice standards with the Office of Strategic Planning and Innovation, replied via email. “We do not track or tally how many forensic exams are ‘ordered/conducted’ in open DSS cases and would have no way to know how many are conducted on children who are not involved with the agency.”

But children’s advocacy centers, where many of these exams are conducted, do keep track, and national data shows that about 1 in 4 child abuse victims who are served by a children’s advocacy center get a forensic medical exam, said Teresa Huizar, chief executive officer of the National Children’s Alliance, which represents nearly 1,000 children’s advocacy centers in the U.S.

These numbers don’t capture all forensic medical exams, though, which may also be conducted in emergency departments and private clinics, Huizar said.

 

“I would say that they tend to be under-utilized,” she said. “Often, children who would very much benefit from an exam don’t get them because there simply isn’t enough money in the public pool.”

The cost of these exams varies by location. But in Georgia, for example, a pediatric anogenital exam with a colposcope, a medical tool used for magnification, is about $280, exclusive of lab fees, according to the Georgia Crime Victims Compensation Program.

The Right to Refuse

Child welfare experts agree that forensic medical evaluations can be worthwhile outside the strict scope of child sexual abuse investigations.

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

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