Every year more than 5,000 youth under age 18 report being sexually abused in San Diego County. Nationally, it’s estimated up to one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18. Up to half of all child sexual abuse perpetrators are under the age of 18. Despite these sobering statistics, child abuse and sexual assault is still widely misunderstood.
To raise awareness of the issue and participate in Child Abuse Prevention and Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Palomar Health staff placed 466 colored pinwheels, representing every alleged child abuse and sexual assault survivor served by Palomar Health’s Forensic Health Services in 2016, at both Palomar Medical Center Escondido and Palomar Medical Center Downtown Escondido.
Palomar Health is involved in both the prevention and investigation aspects of child abuse. As North San Diego County’s law enforcement contract provider, Forensic Health Services provided forensic interviews for 271 survivors under the age of 18 of alleged sexual assault last year and performed forensic medical evaluations on an additional 195 survivors aged 14 and older.
Christina Shultz, Licensed Clinical Social Worker for Palomar Health Forensic Health Services, conducts forensic interviews of children and youth brought in by law enforcement. Shultz and her coworker Cathy McLennan, are specially trained to interview children and youth who have been sexually abused. Children are often reluctant to talk for fear hurting others, but the testimony is vital to stopping the abuse.
“If the kid is brave enough to talk, someone needs to tell their story,” Shultz said.
Forensic Health Services also employs seven specially trained nurses through the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) who conduct forensic medical examinations and collect physical evidence of abuse, neglect, and assault.
The testimony and physical evidence is used in legal proceedings to convict perpetrators.
Operating since 1985, Forensic Health Services is one of only two accredited child advocacy centers in San Diego County (the only one in North County) which performs forensic interviews and exams.
Photo: The pinwheels placed outside Palomar Medical Center Escondido and Palomar Medical Center Downtown Escondido commemorate the 466 survivors of child sexual abuse and sexual assault that Palomar Health Forensic Health Services served last year.
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