Thanks to the ingenuity of a Hadassah University Medical Center nurse, child victims of sexual abuse are being put at ease with therapeutic dolls, so they are more apt to allow clinical examination, which can provide officials with evidence against their attackers.
Many times these children will not cooperate with an examination because its invasiveness brings back memories of the abusive experience. With proper examination, however, DNA samples from the attacker's semen or skin cells can be collected not only to bring the guilty party to justice, but also to verify that the attacker did not transmit any sexually transmitted diseases to the child.
Dr. Rachel Yaffa Zisk Rony, Forensic Nurse at Hadassah's Bat Ami Center for Victims of Sexual Assault, explains how she came to develop the therapeutic doll program. About 18 months ago, she came across a two-and-half-year-old girl who had been attacked by her nanny's husband. "She didn't let us touch her," Dr. Zisk Rony recalls, "let alone take any sample from her. As a result, the police didn't have any evidence against the suspect. I had to find a solution, and after searching the professional literature, I developed this method with the dolls."
When a child who has been abused arrives at the Bat Ami Center, he or she chooses a doll and gives it a name. The nurse or social worker also takes a doll and gives it a name. Then the staff member performs a series of tests on the doll, while asking the child to describe what she is doing. By the end of this process, the doll becomes the child's friend. Next, the nurse suggests that the child perform the tests on the doll.
The steps of the process are tailored to each child's personality and background. For example, if the child is Orthodox, the staff will not choose an unfitting modern name. They will also find out the names of the child's siblings and avoid giving the doll one of those names. Depending on the child's reactions, comfort level, and personality, it is determined if and when it may be appropriate to ask the child's permission to examine her. Since this initiative began, the number of children who refused to be examined has decreased dramatically.