Didn’t do enough
Advocate says system failed 12-year-old sexual abuse victim
The province’s child and youth advocate says the system failed a 12-year-old girl who was sexually assaulted by her stepfather, and then taken by him to get an abortion in the province. In a report released last Wednesday, Jacqueline Lake Kavanagh detailed a situation where a family was in the process of moving to Newfoundland and Labrador, and the stepfather impregnated the 12-year-old, and then took her to Planned Parenthood seeking an abortion.
Ultimately, the child was referred to Eastern Health, and an abortion was performed. Kavanagh said in her report that various players didn’t do enough to intervene.
“Age-appropriate counselling services were not provided nor offered; no screening for potential sexual abuse or potential coercion occurred,” the report says.
Ultimately, after the family’s case was eventually referred to the provincial Department of Children, Seniors and Social Development, the RNC was brought in.
The family moved to another province, and the child received a second abortion. Eventually, the abuse was discovered and the stepfather was criminally convicted and sentenced to 16 years in prison.
Kavanagh said that because the little girl was brought into a part of the health -are system normally used to dealing with adults, health-care professionals weren’t really able to respond adequately.
“Questions were not asked, risk was not assessed, consents were not appropriately obtained, child-centred responses were not provided, investigative responses were incomplete and documentation deficiencies existed,” the report says. “Had appropriate measures been taken when this child presented to terminate her pregnancy, or when child protection concerns were reported, the abuse may potentially have been detected and stopped.”
More education needed for health-care workers
Kavanagh said health-care workers need more education on relevant legislation when it comes to child abuse and consent. She called on Memorial University and an array of medical professional governance bodies to educate workers on reporting requirements, the legal age of consent, and relevant legislation.
“We didn’t see that there was any reaching out to the Janeway, and we didn’t see that there was any reaching out to Children Seniors and Social Development,” she said.
“When we look at the gendered nature of sexual abuse and sexual offences, little girls are much more vulnerable to that in that age group. So just knowing some of that basic information might have been enough of a warning sign to say we need to call in someone on this case.” Recommendations accepted Children Seniors and Social Development Minister Lisa Dempster said the government accepts all of the report’s recommendations, and they’ve already started to get to work on.
“My department is also committed to working collaboratively with other departments and entities to assist them to address their respective recommendations, where appropriate. At the end of the day, we all share the same goal — namely the best interests of children and youth in our province.”
Mallary Mcgrath, executive director for Planned Parentood, also issued a statement in response to the Telegram’s inquiry.
“The goal of Planned Parenthood — Newfoundland and Labrador Sexual Health Centre is to provide safe and accessible sexual and reproductive health care,” she said. “If and when gaps in our services are identified, we strive to provide the training and knowledge necessary for our staff and volunteers to ensure proper client care. Additionally, we are dedicated to ensuring that youth who rely on our services are cared for in a safe, inclusive, and non-judgmental environment.”