A new study published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics has found that the cases of child sex abuse treated in the emergency rooms (ERs) have doubled from 2010 to 2016.
The number of injuries related to sex abuse increased to 5,058 in 2016 from 2,280 in 2010 among children aged from 12 to 17. And the number of ER admissions for child sex abuse increased to 8.818 in 2016 from 5,138 in 2010, up by 70 percent.
Researchers said they do not know why the numbers have gone up.
Study author Jesse Helton said, “Rates of child sexual abuse have fallen overall since the mid-’90s. We know that sexual abuse cases are hard to measure, but overall with the rates going down, it should be seen as alarming that the rates are going up in the ERs.”
The researchers noted that most cases involved girls who were indulged in sex trafficking; however, it is unlikely to contribute to the entire surge.
Helton explained, “What we know is this impacts child abuse and neglect permeates all areas of our society. It impacts the community, schools, churches and it affects hospitals, and in this case, emergency departments, too, and the departments need to know how to properly care for kids in these circumstances and how to collect evidence.”
The investigators said that there has been a big cause of concern about the quality of medical care and treatment children involved in sex abuse receive in ERs.
Dr. James Crawford-Jakubiak from UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland, California, said this twofold increase might be shocking to some but he is not surprised by the surge.
He said, “Maybe not being surprised is the shocking thing. This is a very common pediatric problem that we see, especially for girls.”
It has been found that more than 85 percent of children who underwent treatment for sex abuse were girls.
“This is the floor, most kids don’t disclose the nature of what happened to them, and often delay reporting the abuse or assault for weeks, months, or even years,” said Dr. Crawford-Jakubiak.
He said he comes across a lot of mothers who come in with their child for the treatment of sexual assault.
“Often I am the first person that they have ever disclosed to about the abuse that happened to them, this is 30 years later,” he added. “This is a really important reminder this happens all the time and happens in all communities, we need to make sure that when someone does say this has happened to them, there is a place in every community to be safe.”
The study also noted that there have been some disparities when it comes to treatments and quality of care to children who are sexually abused. The researchers said not all hospitals have trained medical specialists and pediatric treatment facility that can help sexually abused kids.
“I think a paper like this reminds us that these kids are going to come in for care whether or not a particular community is ready for them and hopefully a paper like this will be used by communities all across the country to advocate for the funding and the training that people in the community need to help these children,” said Dr. Crawford-Jakubiak said. “Unfortunately, this is far too common a problem.”