How to Keep Children Safe From Abuse at the Pediatrician’s Office

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Madeline Johnson, right, and her sister, Kara, left, with their parents, Brad and Kelly, at the sentencing hearing of Dr. Lawrence G. Nassar. Brendan McDermid/Reuters

How can parents know if a doctor is touching a child in an inappropriate way?

After scores of young women testified about being sexually molested by Dr. Lawrence G. Nassar, the former doctor for the American gymnastics team who was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison on Wednesday, their parents wondered how they could have missed the signs. Some were even in the exam room at the time but were unaware that anything was wrong.

Detecting sexual abuse in a medical setting can be challenging. We teach young children that doctors are among the only people allowed to touch their genitals. That can make it confusing if a patient encounters an abusive physician like Dr. Nassar.

“The natural inclination is to trust a doctor, especially when they tell you, ‘This is something that will make you feel better,’ ” said Scott Berkowitz, president of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, or RAINN.

That said, parents should trust their instincts. If they’re alarmed by a health provider’s practices — frequent genital exams, unconventional medical treatments that involve genital manipulation, disregard for rules about using gloves during sensitive exams or having an adult chaperone present during a child’s exam, even inappropriate jokes or comments — they should question the doctor, get another opinion or switch doctors, experts said.

“If you’re in a situation where the physician does genital exams for medical complaints that don’t seem to warrant them, or does a genital exam that takes an extraordinary amount of time — it should really just be a quick look, unless there’s something notable, a specific reason — those are red flags,” said Dr. Cindy Christian, a co-author of the American Academy of Pediatrics’s policy on protecting children from sexual abuse by health care providers. “If the complaint is a sore throat or a hurt finger, there’s no need to examine the genitals.”

Source: The New York Times