Valley Baptist Abuse Response Team Serves as Advocate for Valley’s Vulnerable

Apr 18, 2024

The month of April serves as Child Abuse Prevention Month, and there is a dire need of increased awareness for the victims of abuse who suffer throughout the community.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, nearly one in seven children in the United States suffered some form of abuse and/or neglect in the last year. Such instances of abuse can have long-lasting impacts, as studies have shown that adult survivors of childhood abuse are more likely to experience mental health difficulties, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, and substance use disorders.

For victims of child abuse, the road to healing and justice can be a difficult one to travel, but Valley Baptist Health System is ensuring that some of the most vulnerable in the Rio Grande Valley do not have to travel that road alone.

Through its comprehensive medical forensic program, the Child to Adult Abuse Response Team (CAART) at Valley Baptist-Harlingen provides around-the-clock critical services to both child and adult victims of abuse, neglect, and sexual assault.

Offering services since 2006, the abuse response team provides care to more than 100 patients each month, in addition to working with partners and advocates throughout the community and testifying in legal court cases involving abuse.

As part of the services offered by the abuse response team, four specially trained sexual assault nurse examiners who are also skilled as forensic nurses care for patients in a calming and secure treatment room designed specifically for victims of abuse, where doctors and nurses can provide medical care to the community’s most vulnerable.

Genette Spear is certified by the Texas Attorney General's Office as a Certified Adult and Certified Pediatric Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner and has been a member of Valley Baptist-Harlingen’s CAART since its inception in 2006. She is also certified by the International Association of Forensic Nurses as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner-Adult and Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner-Pediatric.

“Valley Baptist Health System is committed to providing quality comprehensive care to our community,” Spear said. “The Child to Adult Abuse Response Team was created to provide that care to the most vulnerable of our population: Those people affected by sexual abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse, elder abuse, and victims of other forms of violence.”

The services provided by Valley Baptist’s CAART are vital to the physical and emotional well-being of the victims – children, women, and men who are often shrouded in unfounded social stigmas and who may be apprehensive about seeking medical care, Spear said.

“Child abuse affects everyone. It affects all ages, all genders, all socio-economic groups. Every person either knows someone who was abused or was abused themselves. Unfortunately, many do not come forward. Many who come forward may face many obstacles including disbelief, victim blaming, social isolation. Medical care should not be one of those obstacles,” she said. “CAART provides medical care with compassion and understanding. The forensic nurses work with the medical team members to provide a safe and comfortable place to get the comprehensive quality medical care they need and deserve. That comprehensive care includes getting a comprehensive history, testing for diseases, documenting injuries, providing needed medical care, making sure the victim has a safe place to go, connecting the patient with community resources they may need, facilitating communication with law enforcement, and just listening and believing. The Child to Adult Abuse Team coordinates with its community partners to make sure the needs of the patient are met and are met with compassion and understanding.”

While Valley Baptist Health System plays a vital role in caring for and protecting all victims of abuse, Spear said it is critical for the community to do its part to help curb the impacts of child abuse.

“We are committed to providing the very best care to our community, but it is of utmost importance that we all do our part,” she said. “If you see a child being abused, if you are told a child is being abused, or you suspect a child is being abused, say something. Report it. If a child tells you they are being abused, believe them. Report it.”

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