Emotional response to the ano-genital examination of suspected sexual abuse

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Introduction:Concerns have arisen among professionals working with children regarding potential emotional distress as a result of the ano-genital examination for suspected child sexual abuse. The purpose of this study was to describe and compare children's anxiety immediately preceding and immediately following the medical assessment of suspected child sexual abuse, including the ano-genital exam, and to examine demographic characteristics of those children reporting clinically significant anxiety.Method:In this descriptive study, children between the ages of 8 to 18 years of age requiring an ano-genital examination for concerns of suspected sexual abuse presenting to the Child Assessment Center of the Center for Child and Family Advocacy at Nationwide Children's Hospital were asked to participate. The Multidimensional Anxiety Scale for Children (MASC-10) was utilized in the study. The MASC-10 was completed by the child before and after the physical exam for suspected sexual abuse.Results:Although most (86%) children gave history of sexual abuse during their forensic interview, the majority (83%) of children in this study did not report clinically significant anxiety before or after the child sexual abuse examination. Children reporting clinically significant anxiety were more likely to have a significant cognitive disability, give history of more invasive forms of sexual abuse, have a chronic medical diagnosis, have a prior mental health diagnosis, have an ano-genital exam requiring anal or genital cultures, and lack private/public medical insurance.Discussion:A brief assessment of child demographics should be solicited prior to exam. Children sharing demographic characteristics listed above may benefit from interventions to decrease anxiety regardless of provider ability to detect anxiety.

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