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Forensic Medical Exam

Forensic medical exams. It sounds like a scary topic to discuss; however, it is a crucial step in healing for victims of sexual abuse. In this article, I will discuss some common misconceptions and thoughts when a forensic medical exam is mentioned. 

The first misconception is that it is traumatic. This simply is not true. A SANE (sexual assault nurse examiner) has extensive training on how to perform exams in a way that is healing and not re-traumatizing. In pediatric specific populations, we have many years of experience with children and use a myriad of techniques to ensure that the exam is healing and not traumatic. Some of these include using a facility dog, taking long periods of time to build trust and assurance with the SANE, the use of toys, blankets, technology, etc. A medical exam is never forced on a child.  

The second misconception is that the exam is only used to collect evidence or proof of abuse. Did you know that approximately 96% of children do not have any evidence of abuse. Evidence collection or “proof” should not be a deciding factor if a child should get a medical exam. The medical exam is designed to provide reassurance to the child that their body is ok, healthy, and normal. Some children need that reassurance that there is no presence of diseases or that there is something that someone can see that would make them different. The SANE can provide reassurance and education to the child that their body is ok. This is very important and is a step to healing from the incident that occurred. 

One final misconception (there are several more) we will discuss is that the SANE exam is similar to a women’s pelvic exam. The exam is nothing like that and is external on non-acute medical exams. Non-acute medical exams are what is mostly performed in the pediatric population due to the delay in reporting by the child. This occurs due to manipulation, threats and other reasons. The exam can be performed in multiple ways, positions, and with various techniques to keep the patient comfortable. We do not perform pap smears or use speculums. 

The important aspect to remember about forensic medical exams is that if you have questions or concerns, to please reach out to those experts in that area. Both medical and non-medical personnel are welcome and encouraged to come and tour our on-site medical suite and ask questions. It is vitally important to continue to educate and bridge the gap of misconceptions so that children can receive needed medical care and support.