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

Oct 5, 2021

HARLINGEN – For victims of abuse and domestic violence, the road to healing and justice can be a difficult one to travel, but Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen 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) – the only program of its kind in the Valley – Valley Baptist provides around-the-clock critical services to 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, 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.

Sonja Eddleman, a licensed sexual assault nurse examiner, Child Abuse Resource and Evaluation Team clinical coordinator with Driscoll Children’s Hospital and CAART clinical director for Valley Baptist Health System, said the abuse response team is an important tool in caring for patients, especially as the community continues to deal with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“When patients come to the hospital, they expect that their medical needs will be met including: a comprehensive medical history, injuries documented and treated, testing and treatment for pertinent diseases, collection of items that have potential evidentiary value and providing resources for the next steps along the path,” she said. “The forensic nurses on the Child to Adult Abuse Response Team along with other medical team members provide comprehensive services wrapped in compassion. The compassionate services provided are instrumental in helping the patient with the next steps of the investigation and the potential for the case to go to court.”

The month of October serves as Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and there is a dire need of increased awareness for the victims of assault and abuse who suffer throughout the community. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, approximately 1.3 million women and 835,000 men are victims of physical violence by a partner every year. In addition to those statistics, 2.9 million cases of child abuse are reported annually in the United States.

The services provided by Valley Baptist are vital to the physical and emotional well-being of the victims – children, women, and men who are often shrouded in social stigma, Eddleman said.

“Valley Baptist has established community relationships with law enforcement and local nonprofits to connect our patients with the resources they need to be safe after discharge,” she said. “We are committed to providing quality, around-the-clock, compassionate care to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in our communities, and to supporting all efforts to reduce further violence.”

In addition to the services it provides daily, Valley Baptist Health System is also set to host the 18th annual seminar in forensic sciences, scheduled for November 3-5. This year the seminar will be held virtually in order to protect our attendees and speakers during the ongoing COVID pandemic.

The seminar will provide current information to those involved in child abuse investigations, including; law enforcement officers, Child Protective Services workers, social workers, attorneys, nurses, pediatricians, medical examiners, forensic pathologists, coroners, psychologists, EMS personnel, school and day care personnel, clergy, and other professionals. The special three-day conference will address ways to prevent child abuse, techniques used in child death investigations, and other current issues involving child abuse and domestic violence.

“The seminar will provide up to date information, standards of practice, and evidence based research,” Eddleman said. “This is imperative for all professionals that touch the lives of children and have the opportunity to speak, act, and take a stand to protect the children. The victims of abuse and domestic violence are waiting on us to help them.”

Presenters for the conference will include Breall Baccus, Public Policy Coordinator at the Texas Council on Family Violence; Andrew Campbell, an expert on domestic violence; Dr. Marguerite DeWitt, faculty member of the Criminal Justice Program at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and one of the founders of the Valley Baptist CAART program; Sonja Eddleman; Dr. Stanley Fisch, Professor of Pediatrics, Dean of Students at the UTRGV School of Medicine and longtime Valley Baptist physician; and Pritesh Ghandi, Chief Medical Officer of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

For more information on services provided by Valley Baptist, visit For more information or to register for the conference, visit or call Stephanie Hamby at (956) 389-1721.

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