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Reporting Child Abuse: Collecting Evidence and Getting Medical Care

Child in profile
If you suspect child abuse, report it to Child Protective Services.

Jeanne Parrish, forensic coordinator/nurse practitioner at UVA Emergency Department, is all too familiar with the impact of child abuse. She works with forensic nurse examiners who provide medical care, support and evidence collection for people who come into the emergency department after suffering assault. A large percentage of these cases who come to the emergency department are those reporting child abuse.

Domestic Violence and Strangulation

As part of her doctoral research, Parrish studied strangulation in domestic violence.

“Strangulation is highly lethal,” Parrish says. 98 percent of strangulation victims are women. In child abuse cases, children can also suffer strangulation. Patients who suffer strangulation and survive can develop pulmonary edema or strokes days after the incident. Because of its lethality, strangulation is a felony.

“Anyone who has been strangled needs immediate medical care,” she says. Even if strangulation leaves no marks, it can cause internal injuries that can result in death if not treated.

Reporting Child Abuse to Child Protective Services

“We report suspected child abuse to child protective services (CPS),” Parrish says. She and her colleagues are mandatory reporters, meaning that if they suspect child abuse, laws require them to report it to CPS.

In cases of child sexual abuse, words like rape or abuse aren’t always adequate. “Sexually touching a child on his or her genitals, or making a child touch an adult’s genitals with any part of the child’s body constitute abuse,” Parrish says.

Abusers groom and threaten their victims, so in some cases, children may want to appease them. Children are also sensitive to the adults around them and might downplay or minimize an incident if they sense that the adult reporting it is angry, sad or upset. Because of these complicated issues, only specially trained examiners interview children and collect evidence in child abuse.

If You Suspect Child Abuse

Contact the UVA on-call service operator at 434.924.0000 to talk to the forensic nurse examiner on call 24 hours/day, 7 days/week.

If you suspect a child is a victim of abuse, or if the child has:

  • Visible injuries
  • Acute illnesses from physical abuse

Report it immediately to Child Protective Services by calling:

Collecting Evidence of Child Sexual Abuse

If you suspect that the abuse occurred within the past five days, the child can be seen immediately at the UVA Emergency Department for evaluation and care. Different types of contact have the following evidentiary time requirements:

  • Touch DNA (a test that analyzes skin cells left behind when assailants touch victims): 48 hours (2 days)
  • Saliva: 72 hours (3 days)
  • Anal tissue: 96 hours (4 days)
  • Vaginal tissue: 120 hours (5 days)

Professionals specially trained will collect evidence and take photos. If the sexual event happened more than five days ago, an investigator will schedule an exam with the forensics team.

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