Medical examination of sexually abused children: medico-legal value

J Forensic Sci. 2000 Jan;45(1):115-7.


The Department of Forensic Medicine (forensic pathology and clinical forensic medicine), Aarhus, Jutland, Denmark, performs examinations of children suspected to have been sexually abused when reported to and requested by the police in Jutland, Denmark. Jutland covers an area of 210,000 km2 with about 300,000 inhabitants in Aarhus. A colposcope initially equipped with an Olympus camera, but now with a video camera attached has been used since 1994. Since 1994 the department has performed more than 100 examinations of children suspected of having been sexually abused. A preliminary study was taken to evaluate all cases from 1995 including the legal outcome.

Results: The material included 34 cases with three boys, mean age 11 years, and 31 girls, mean age 8 years, at the time of the examination. The sexual abuse events were fondling including penetration of the vagina, vaginal (14), anal (7), and oral (5) intercourse as well as cunnilingus and nontouching abuses. The medical examination was most often performed more than a week after the abuse. The examination revealed normal findings in 23 cases, nonspecific findings including erytherma in 13 cases, and in only one child was a traumatic lesion with rupture of the hymen seen. The perpetrators were above 25 years of ane and were family members or someone known to the child. Nine perpetrators were convicted at court, of whom three admitted having abused the child.

Conclusion: A medical examination in cases of sexual child abuse seldom provides a legal proof of sexual abuse. The most important is the story told by the child. Therefore, the examination is a supplement which may support or remain neutral to the story told by the child.

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Pain / etiology
  • Abdominal Pain / pathology
  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Colposcopy
  • Constipation / etiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Vaginal Discharge / etiology
  • Vaginal Discharge / pathology
  • Violence