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Guidelines for medical care of children who may have been sexually abused.

BACKGROUND: Children who may have been sexually abused are examined in many different settings by medical providers with variable levels of education and experience in this special area of practice. Therefore, there is a need for a consistent evidence-based approach that is agreed upon by medical experts.

OBJECTIVES: To develop and provide guidelines and recommendations for performing and interpreting findings of the medical evaluation of children referred for sexual abuse medical evaluations, and to provide guidelines for the education, oversight, and peer review process for clinicians who provide assessments for suspected child sexual abuse.

METHODS: Participation from medical providers was solicited through postings on the Internet list-serves administered by Cornell University (Special Interest Group in Child Abuse), and by the Ray E. Helfer Society, an honorary society for physician specialists in child abuse diagnosis and treatment. The guidelines were developed through review and critique of published research studies, discussions in focus group meetings at child abuse medical conferences, and ongoing communication leading to revision of draft documents.

RESULTS: Groups of 10 to 40 physician experts met at child abuse conferences between January 2002 and January 2005 to revise the table summarizing the interpretation of physical and laboratory findings in suspected child sexual abuse and to develop guidelines for medical care for sexually abused children. Between January and December 2005, the guidelines were expanded and revised.

CONCLUSIONS: The guidelines presented here reflect the current knowledge, recommended clinical approaches, and required competencies in the field of child sexual abuse medical evaluation.

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