Review Article

Child sexual abuse: The significance of the history and testifying on non-confirmatory findings

Johanna M. Kotzé, Hanneke Brits
African Journal of Primary Health Care & Family Medicine | Vol 11, No 1 | a1954 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/phcfm.v11i1.1954 | © 2019 Johanna M. Kotzé, Hanneke Brits | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 21 September 2018 | Published: 10 June 2019

About the author(s)

Johanna M. Kotzé, Department of Forensic Medicine, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa; and, Department of Family Medicine, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa
Hanneke Brits, Department of Family Medicine, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa


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Abstract

Background: Despite numerous studies and publications, there is still a common expectation that a medical assessment can confirm or rule out child sexual abuse (CSA). The truth is that CSA can never be ruled out and can seldom be confirmed on clinical grounds.

Aim: The objective of this article was to suggest which aspects to consider when the expert medical witness in a CSA case needs to explain why CSA can seldom be confirmed and can never be ruled out. The importance of a sound medical and medico-legal history was discussed because the history was generally the only positive ‘finding’ of the assessment of children who have possibly been abused.

Method: Authoritative sources were used to support the explanation of reasons for an absence of corroborative clinical findings in CSA, as defined by the World Health Organization. The authors structured the individual sections by providing a background on which to base the testimony. They then summarised the clinical forensic significance of the information which should be offered in the courts and which should reflect on the court records, to be taken into account in the eventual decision, which will be made by the court.

Results: A guideline was provided for answering questions frequently posed to the expert witness in child abuse cases where there were no positive findings.

Conclusion: A structure for the explanation of reasons for a normal clinical examination when evaluating children who may have been sexually abused may reduce the discomfort of medical witnesses and improve the quality of expert medical testimony.


Keywords

child sexual abuse; expert medical witness; sexual assault; non-confirmatory signs; normal examination

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