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KIDSta Glossary
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Glossary of Terms

Many terms and acronyms are explained and used throughout the protocol. However, it is helpful to have a reference tool to turn to for an explanation of terms of acronyms. Note this section is not an exhaustive list of terms pertinent to the exam process or of commonly used acronyms. Also, definitions are listed here as they apply to this protocol and may vary from those used in protocols developed by states, territories, tribes, federal agencies, and local communities. 

In this document, adolescent children (Tanner stage 3 and 4) are distinguished from prepubescent children (Tanner stage 1 and 2). The care of Tanner stage 3 or 4 children, who have potential reproductive capability, is addressed in the National Protocol for Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Examinations—Adults/Adolescents (2013). Note a Tanner stage 3 or 4 female, even if she is premenarchal, potentially has reproductive capacity. (See Appendix 1 on Tanner stages.)

The expressed willingness to participate in an activity (e.g., examination procedures). For younger children who are by definition too young to give informed consent to care, but old enough to understand and agree to participate, the child’s “informed assent” is sought. (IRC, 2012).

A person exercising a day-to-day caregiver role for a child, such as a parent, guardian, foster parent, sibling, relative, or family friend. Caregivers may or may not have legal responsibility for the child. Additional persons may play a more temporary caregiver role for a child, such as a child care provider or babysitter. (Adapted from IRC, 2012; WCSAP, 2009; Day &Pierce Weeks, 2013).

A formal, chronological documentation of the custody and possession of evidence. It is used to establish the integrity of the evidence collection in a court of law.

Refers to how a child becomes able to do more complex things as they get older, with a focus on gross and fine motor, language, cognitive, and social skills (University of Michigan Health System, 2015). In addition to physical growth, children typically experience distinct periods of development as they age. For information on developmental milestones, see the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at

In this document, refers to an approach to care that is developmentally, linguistically, and culturally appropriate for prepubescent children, designed with their needs and best interest in mind, and intended to reduce potentially traumatic effects of the exam process. The term “child-focused” is used interchangeably with “child-friendly” in this document.

Child sexual abuse, as used in this protocol, is intended to encompass any sexual violence a prepubescent child may experience. Specifically, it refers to the involvement of a child in sexual activity that she/he does not fully comprehend, is unable to give informed consent to, or for which the child is not developmentally prepared and cannot give consent, or that violates the laws or social taboos of society (World Health Organization, 1999). Child sexual abuse can occur between a child and a person or persons of any age or relationship to the child. The intent of the abuse is to gratify or satisfy the needs of the other person(s) (WHO, 1999). (See the Introduction for a discussion on the nature of child sexual abuse acts).  Note that the term child sexual abuse often has different meaning across jurisdictions and clinical settings.  

A child is anyone under 18, unless majority [adulthood] is attained earlier under the applicable law of a jurisdiction (e.g., those pertaining to age of consent, child protection, and criminal responsibility) (UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, 1989). There is some variation across U.S. states regarding the age of majority—see for information on related laws of each state. Note this document address only prepubescent children.

Children’s advocacy centers have been established in many jurisdictions to facilitate multidisciplinary team coordination in child abuse and neglect cases, with the goals of child safety, trauma-informed care, justice, and healing. These centers are child-friendly facilities in which a multidisciplinary team of professionals (typically comprised of law enforcement, child protective services, prosecutors, medical professionals, mental health providers, and victim advocates) coordinate the investigation, prosecution, child protection, and treatment of child abuse. In addition to brokering coordination among responders in individual cases, many children’s advocacy centers offer a location to provide services to children under one roof, such as forensic interviews, medical forensic examinations, victim advocacy, and mental health treatment.

An agent of the government who is responsible for the assessment of risk to the child who may have been abused and the child’s siblings. The assessment is often coordinated with law enforcement. The child protective service representative has jurisdiction over the protection, placement, and long-term disposition of the child, as well as services and support to the victim’s family. In this protocol, personnel from child protective service agencies are referred to as “child protective service workers” or “child protective service representatives,” unless more specificity is required. In some jurisdictions, child protective service agencies are mandated to participate in multidisciplinary response teams that investigate child abuse and neglect.

An ethical principle associated with medical and social services professions. Maintaining confidentiality requires that providers protect information gathered about patients/clients and agree only to share information about a patient/client’s case with their explicit permission. All written or photo-documentation from a child sexual abuse case should be maintained in a confidential place in locked or secure files. There are significant limits to confidentiality while working with prepubescent children who have been sexually abused. In some jurisdictions, mandatory reporting laws may override health privacy laws and require sharing of information among investigative agencies. 

Note that confidentiality is distinguished from privileged communication, which is a legal protection of certain information. Privilege laws are jurisdiction specific, but often include medical providers, mental health providers, and community-based victim advocates. However, as with confidentiality, privileged communication is limited in child sexual abuse cases. 

All the children that may have had contact with the alleged perpetrator.  Contact children include siblings, relatives, or any other child that the alleged perpetrator can access.  They should be considered for medical forensic care and reported to legal authorities.

Generally speaking, a body of learned beliefs, traditions, and guides for behaving and interpreting behavior that is shared among members of a particular group (Blue, n.d.). Aspects of a culture include its values, beliefs, customs, communication styles, behaviors, practices, and institutions (Blue, n.d.). In this protocol, a CULTURAL GROUP refers not only to ethnic or racial groups, but also other groups with distinct cultures. Examples include faith communities; Deaf and hard-of-hearing communities; populations with differing sexual orientations and gender identities or expressions; immigrants; refugees; the homeless; military personnel and their dependents; and individuals in correctional settings, foster care systems, boarding schools, and other residential settings. One culture may be closely connected to another (e.g., an ethnic group may be rooted in religious and/or spiritual beliefs of a particular faith community). Individuals often belong to multiple cultural groups. Note that cultural beliefs may or may not affect a child’s experience of sexual abuse, the related reactions of the child and caregiver, and their preferred approaches to emotional support, healing, and justice (adapted from DeBoard-Lucas et al., 2013). If culture is influential in this regard, responders can offer to help children and caregivers to access cultural resources during the exam process and beyond. 

There are many types of disabilities, such as those that affect the following: vision, movement, thinking, remembering, learning, communicating, hearing, mental health, and social relationships. Disabilities can affect children in different ways, even if one child has the same type of disability as another child. Some disabilities may be hidden or not easy to see. Disability can occur at any point in a child’s life (e.g., an infant can be born with spina bifida, which may affect walking; a child could be in a car crash and have traumatic brain injury, which may affect thinking and remembering; a child can have mental illnesses which may make it difficult to manage day-to-day stressful situations; a child may be born with or develop hearing or vision loss, which may affect communication; a child may has development disability such as autism, which can affect social interactions, communications, and behavior). 

The process of revealing information. In reference to this document, disclosure refers specifically to how a person learns about a child’s experience with sexual abuse. Disclosure about sexual abuse can be directly or indirectly communicated, voluntarily or involuntarily.

Refers in this document to a box or envelope that outlines specific types of forensic evidence requested by a jurisdictional crime lab from the body of a victim of sexual violence. It contains the necessary materials for collection, packaging, and maintaining chain of custody once the evidence is gathered, packaged, and sealed. The kit may also be referred to as an evidentiary kit in this document.

The site at which the child sexual abuse medical forensic examination is conducted. 

Refers to the child’s entry into the health care system, the medical forensic examination in its entirety, and planning at the exam’s conclusion to facilitate post-exam health care and referrals to address child-, family-, and case-specific needs.   

A professional who initially responds to a disclosure of child sexual abuse (there is often more than one first responder). These professionals typically follow agency/facility response policies. Those who traditionally have been responsible for immediate response to child sexual abuse include child protective service workers, 911 dispatchers, law enforcement representatives, health care providers, children’s advocacy center staff, and victim advocates. A wide range of other responders also may be involved, such as emergency medical service providers, paramedics, public safety officials, prosecutors and victim—witness staff, mental health providers, social service workers, corrections and probation staff, spiritual support persons, child care providers, school personnel, employers, certified interpreters, and providers from organizations that address needs of specific populations (e.g., persons with disabilities, racial and cultural groups, the poor and homeless, runaways and adolescents in foster care, and domestic violence victims). Families and friends of victims also can play an important role in the initial response; however, they are not considered first responders in this document.  

Information, objects, or specimens that may be admitted into court for judges and juries to consider when hearing a case. Forensic evidence may come from a variety of sources, including biological sources. 

The forensic scientist is responsible for analyzing evidence in sexual abuse cases. This evidence typically includes DNA and other biological evidence, toxicology samples, latent prints, and trace evidence. Some forensic scientists specialize in the analysis of specific types of evidence. In this protocol, forensic scientists working in jurisdictional crime laboratories may be referred to as crime lab/laboratory personnel. Forensic scientists analyzing drug and alcohol samples are also referred to as toxicologists. Forensic scientists in some communities may respond to crime scenes to collect evidence and to process the scene. 

A community that has power to govern or legislate for itself. For example, a jurisdiction may be a local area, state, territory, or tribe. Jurisdiction also describes the authority to interpret and apply laws—it is used in this context when identifying who has “jurisdiction” over a particular case. 

Refers to explaining all aspects of the exam process to the prepubescent child and her/his guardian (as applicable) in a manner they can fully understand. When working with children, keep in mind that the explanation must be developmentally appropriate. It is crucial that child patients and their guardians are aware of the options open to them and given sufficient information to enable them to make informed decisions about care during the exam process. Even if the child cannot legally give consent, she/he can still give informed assent.

Oral language services for interpretation and written language services, including translation of written materials into languages other than English for limited English proficient (LEP) individuals. 

Different types of law enforcement agencies exist at the local, state, territory, tribal, and federal levels (e.g., state, county, tribal, or local police or sheriff, sworn police on college campuses, the FBI, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), and military police). Any of these agencies could potentially be involved in responding to child sexual abuse cases. Also, in areas without a local law enforcement agency, public safety officials may assist in immediate response to child sexual abuse. Some agencies may have staff with specialized education and experience in child sexual abuse, who may be dedicated to investigating sexual abuse cases and/or part of special units for investigating child sexual abuse. Dedicated staff and special units may more broadly address child abuse and neglect. In this protocol, personnel from law enforcement agencies are referred to as “law enforcement officers” or “law enforcement representatives,” unless more specificity is required. Some are mandated to participate in jurisdictional multidisciplinary response teams that investigate child abuse and neglect. 

Refers to individuals who do not speak English as their primary language and have a limited ability to read, speak, write, or understand English. LEP individuals may be entitled to language assistance services to ensure they have meaningful access to a benefit, program, or service that receives federal financial assistance. 

A principle of forensic science, developed by Edmund Locard in which he found that every contact, no matter how slight, between two items will result in an exchange between the two. Any contact between a perpetrator and child, as well as the crime scene itself, may have potential corroborating evidence left behind (trace materials and/or body fluids from the perpetrator). As the body of the child is assessed, forensic samples should be taken from the areas where potential evidence may exist.

In this document, refers to an examination of a child who is suspected of being sexually abused. It is conducted by a health care provider, ideally one who has specialized education and clinical experience in the collection of forensic evidence and treatment of pediatric patients. The examination includes evaluating the child for safety and acute care needs, gathering information from the child and her/his caregiver, as appropriate, for the medical history; a physical and anogenital examination; coordinating treatment of injuries, documentation of exam findings, collection of evidence from the child when applicable; information, testing, treatment, and referrals for STDs (including HIV), assessment of suicidal ideation and other nonacute medical concerns; and follow-up as needed to provide additional healing, treatment, or collection of evidence. 

Refers to country or jurisdictional laws and policies, which mandate certain agencies and/or persons in helping professions (teachers, social workers, health staff, etc.) to report to child protection and/or criminal justice authorities actual or suspected child abuse (e.g., physical, sexual, neglect, emotional and psychological abuse, unlawful sexual intercourse).

Refers to a multidisciplinary team response to child sexual abuse that seeks to foster coordination and communication among those agencies/facilities in a community that respond to child sexual abuse. This protocol focuses on the multidisciplinary team response related to the exam process. A team structure provides a mechanism to link key entities and allow them to consistently coordinate their interventions whenever there is a report, disclosure, or suspicion of child sexual abuse. It also helps them communicate about what is happening in individual cases. The team structure is a quality assurance mechanism, promoting regular meetings of responders, case review, education, and activities to prevent vicarious trauma. Jurisdictions vary in the extent and formality of team coordination, as well as in team purposes, and may refer to these teams by a variety of names. In many jurisdictions, multidisciplinary response teams are statutorily mandated to coordinate all child abuse and neglect investigations. The development of coordination protocols to guide their response is also often required. 

PEDIATRIC (adapted from Stanton & Behrman, 2011):
Generally concerned with all aspects of the wellbeing of children. Note the pediatric population addressed in this protocol is solely prepubescent children as described below. Pediatric health care must be concerned with particular organ systems and biological processes, developmental issues, and environmental and social influences that affect the health and wellbeing of children and families. 

Refers to the health care provider conducting the pediatric sexual abuse medical forensic examination. Jurisdictions across the country rely on a range of health care providers (e.g., physicians, registered nurses, and advanced practice providers such as advanced practice nurses and physician assistants) who have been specially educated and completed clinical requirements to provide medical forensic care for prepubescent children. Communities refer to their trained pediatric examiners by specific terms and acronyms based upon the discipline of practitioners and/or specialized education and clinical experiences. 

In this document, a person who directly inflicts or supports sexual abuse of prepubescent children. Perpetrators may be adults or children who have power over the victim, including parents, guardians, and other caregivers; other family members living in the home; nonresident relatives (e.g., uncles/aunts, grandparents, cousins); friends, acquaintances, and neighbors (of the family but also the child’s peers); strangers; and authority figures (e.g., teachers, spiritual leaders, health care workers, youth group leaders, and adults from organizations working with children). The suspected perpetrator may be referred to in this protocol as a suspect. When litigation is discussed, the suspected perpetrator may be referred to as a defendant. When talking more broadly about perpetrators, they may also be referred to as offenders or assailants. 

A child’s stage of pubertal development is determined by assessing secondary sexual characteristics rather than chronological age. While the onset and timeline of the pubertal process is unique to each child, the stages are identifiable and predictable (Jenny, 2011; Kaplowitz, 1999; Fritz, 2011).  Tanner stages detail the physical signs of breast, pubic hair, and male genitalia development for each of the five sexual maturation stages (see Appendix 1. Tanner Stages of Sexual Maturation). Prepubescent children’s sexual characteristic development is reflected as stage 1 or stage 2 of Tanner stages (Marshall & Tanner, 1969; Child Growth Foundation, n.d.). Prepubescent children require interventions during the medical forensic examination that are tailored to their developmental stage. In addition, these interventions must be based on population-specific knowledge of differences between normal variants and healed injuries from prior abuse. Note that while the onset of puberty should not be correlated to a chronological age, concerns about precocious or delayed sexual development should be referred to the appropriate pediatric specialist.

Different types of prosecution offices exist at the local, tribal, state, territory, and federal level (e.g., tribal prosecutor’s office, county prosecutor’s office, district attorney’s office, state attorney’s office, United States Attorney’s office, and military judicial branches). Any of these offices could be involved in responding to child sexual abuse. In addition, some offices may have personnel with specialized education and experience in child sexual abuse who may be dedicated to prosecuting child sexual abuse and/or part of special units with the same goal. Some may be dedicated or part special units to prosecute child abuse and neglect. In this protocol, attorneys from prosecution offices will be referred to as prosecutors unless more specificity is required. Some are mandated to participate in jurisdictional multidisciplinary response teams that coordinate child abuse and neglect investigations.

A scale of physical measurements of development, based on external primary and secondary sex characteristics. The scale was first identified by James Tanner, a British pediatrician.  Tanner staging characterizes a scale from 1 to 5, based on secondary sex organ development. Considered in the scale for girls is development of breasts and pubic hair, and for boys is testicular volume and pubic hair.  The scale was developed with reference to a single ethnic group and a relatively small sample of only 200 children, so using this as a measure may not apply to all ethnic groups. (Blackemore, Burnet, & Dahl, 2010). (See Appendix 1.)

In this document, refers to an approach to care that seeks to support the healing and growth of children who have experienced sexual abuse, while avoiding their retraumatization (RSP & NSVRC, 2013). It considers and evaluates all interventions in light of a basic understanding of the role that sexual abuse plays in the lives of child survivors (Harris & Fallot, 2001; RSP & NSVRC, 2013). It integrates an understanding of the survivor’s history and the entire context of their experience. It recognizes the effects that trauma can have on the child's behavior, coping strategies, relationships, and ability to interact with healthcare providers, law enforcement, and other professionals involved. 

This protocol focuses on prepubescent child sexual abuse victims. The victim can be a female or male, a person whose gender identity does not conform to her/his biological sex, or someone who does not identify as either female or male. In many instances, prepubescent children do not actually disclose that they have been abused. Individuals who suspect sexual abuse may seek help for these children.  Note that because the protocol addresses a multidisciplinary team response, the term victim is not used in a strictly criminal justice context. The use of this term simply acknowledges that children in sexual abuse cases should have access to certain services and interventions designed to help them be safe, recover, and seek justice. The terms victim, survivor, and patient shall be used interchangeably.

A victim advocate typically can offer child sexual abuse victims and their family members a range of services before, during, and after the exam process. These services may include support, crisis intervention, information and referrals, counseling, and advocacy to ensure the child’s interests are represented, their wishes respected, and their rights upheld. In addition, advocates may provide follow-up services, such as support groups, counseling, accompaniment to related appointments, and legal advocacy (civil, criminal, and immigration) to help meet the needs of victims and their families. A number of agencies may offer some or all of these services, including community-based sexual assault programs, children’s advocacy centers, criminal justice system victim-witness offices, patient advocate programs at health care facilities, military family advocacy programs, tribal social services, and others. 

In this document, refers to an approach to care that is grounded in an awareness of and commitment to addressing the needs of child victims of sexual abuse during the exam process. It recognizes that child victims deserve timely, compassionate, respectful, and appropriate care to promote their healing, as well as information to allow decision making. Care is informed by the child’s circumstance. Medical personnel may refer to this as patient-centered care.
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