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January/February 2001Vol. 2, No. 1Baltimore Center Consolidates Services for Child Sexual Abuse Victims

Officials in Baltimore purposely chose a kid friendly place--downtown Baltimore, near the Inner Harbor and the Children's Museum--to locate the Baltimore Child Abuse Center. The site is in keeping with the Center's overarching goal to do everything possible to put sexually abused children at ease.

The Center's work was highlighted in November when it hosted the premier of a 15-minute film entitled "The Power to Make a Difference." The film is aimed at heightening public awareness of child sexual abuse and educating adults on how to protect children from such abuse. Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend made opening remarks and a tour of the Center followed the film.

The film offered statistics on how child abuse affects both children and adults and discussed the Center and its goals. A 12-year-old child victim and her grandmother were interviewed in the film. The child said her decision to participate in the film was prompted by her desire to prevent others from experiencing sexual abuse and was agreed upon by the child and her therapist as an important part of her therapy.

Law enforcement officers, physicians, and hospital staff all refer any child who has been sexually abused in Baltimore City to the Center. The goal is to have the child participate in only one interview and one medical exam, thereby avoiding "re-victimization." Until the Center opened, each child who had been sexually abused was interviewed an average of 7 times and examined 2 to 3 times.

At the Center, child care workers trained via the Welfare to Work program help to care for siblings while a non-offending parent and the victim are being interviewed. The child's interview is performed by a licensed clinical social worker with police, State's attorneys and child protective service workers watching and recording notes via closed circuit television. At the completion of the child's interview, these professionals meet with the parent to discuss further treatment and services.

A physician completes a comprehensive medical exam and records the results. Rape victims under the age of 13 are referred to University of Maryland pediatric emergency room. If over age 13, the child is referred to Mercy Hospital, which is the designated hospital in Baltimore for rape cases. However, the physician from the Center coordinates with the physicians from these hospitals and the Center works with the families on referrals for treatment.

Often the Center will identify other areas, such as housing or lack of benefits, that are not being addressed and assistance is given or referrals made. For many of the children the medical exam is their first, and the physician often identifies other medical issues. Time is given during the exam to address these issues if needed. For example, the doctor is often the first to become aware that an older child has been sexually active and will work to educate them on issues such as venereal disease and birth control. Other conditions such as scabies and heart murmurs have been discovered.

Two physicians--one full-time, one part-time--and one full-time licensed clinical social worker are on staff. Pediatric residents at all of the area hospitals also participate in the ongoing work of the clinic. On average, seven children are seen each day. There are three interview/observation rooms and one medical examining room. Although interviews are scheduled, walk-ins are accepted if referred by professionals, such as police or physicians. An additional goal is to document the abuse so that the perpetrator can be prosecuted. One doctor who spoke at the reception said that although she is subpoenaed in many cases, she appears in court only rarely (4 times in 3 years) because the documented evidence will often lead to a confession by the perpetrator. Because of the Center and a commitment on the part of the Maryland State's Attorney's office, most cases are plea-bargained and the children avoid having to testify in court.

Contact information:
Patricia C. Jessamy
Baltimore Child Abuse Center, Inc.
34 Market Pl.
Suite 310
Baltimore, MD 21202
Phone: 410-396-5165
Fax: 410-727-3526