Pediatricians Need to Do More to Protect Children from Sexual Abuse By Healthcare Providers: Report

American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) now recommends that steps be taken to detect "grooming" behavior that may lead to sexual abuse of children, and for increased use of chaperones for children during sensitive examinations.

Following several high profile sexual abuse cases involving doctors which have been uncovered in recent years, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued a series of new recommendations designed to help prevent issues and ensure the safety of children in health care settings.

The AAP released a policy statement late last month in the journal Pediatrics, indicating the sexual abuse or exploitation of children is never acceptable, and can be prevented if proper screening of pediatricians and protocols are taken.

In recent years cases of sexual abuse by doctors, psychiatrists, and obstetrics and gynecology specialists have been reported across the U.S. Data from recent studies within the U.S. show that victimization ranges from 15% to 25% for girls, and 5% to 10% for boys. Unfortunately, experts believe many cases go reported out of disbelief or fear of repercussion, or may be settled without legal involvement.

The AAP’s position statement warns that healthcare is not exempt from sexual predators, who could be drawn to the field by the inherent position of power and opportunity to engage in sexual misconduct. Therefore, a new series of recommendations are being provided to outline steps that can be taken to protect future patients from harm, identify possible sexual misconduct and respond to such conduct with the necessary actions needed against predatory pediatricians and healthcare professionals.

The group warns it is critical for a “safety culture” approach to be adopted by healthcare organizations to reduce the opportunity of harm, both internally and externally. These methods include screening all medical and health care staff and volunteers who have access to children with thorough background checks and past employment history situations.

However, internal approaches should be taken as a secondary measure which include extensive training on the proper standards of exams given to children, with an emphasis on the rules against inappropriate touching and boundary violations.

“Making these expectations explicit and part of training for all personnel sends the message to potential perpetrators that this type of crime is recognized and not tolerated,” the AAP report states.

The report further outlines indicators of possible sexual misconduct by medical professionals. These types of approaches, referred to as “grooming behaviors” are often subtle at first and escalate as patients acquiesce to their orders or sexual contacts. Gifts and favors from pediatricians are also noted as a potential grooming behavior concern.

The AAP warns it is important to be aware that violators may seek children who are emotionally vulnerable, physically or mentally delayed, or attempt repeated contact with unsupervised children. Therefore, one of the key recommendations is to make sure that a chaperones, including a parent, guardian or second medical professional, be present during any sensitive examinations.

The group recommends that medical providers and caregivers report any incident of a medical professional interacting inappropriately with a child that gives “reasonable suspicion” or “cause to believe” that the incident should be reported to the appropriate state agency. A list of state child abuse reporting hotlines is available from the US Department of Health and Human Services Child Welfare Information Gateway.

Childhood Sexual Abuse Impacts

The side effects from childhood sexual abuse can cause devastating impacts on the child’s physical and mental health and often involve various long-term health complications.

Sexual assault is defined as an act where a person engages in sexual behavior or sexual contact with another person against their consent. While this often occurs due to physical force, it can also happen when the perpetrator has some position of social power over the victim. In many such cases, the offender may be a teacher, a coach, a doctor, or an employer.

Because of the fear children may have of telling someone of a sexual assault, many states have long statute of limitations on sexual assault and abuse cases, allowing victims to come forward many years after the incidence, particularly if they were a minor at the time.

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