A state Court of Appeal ruling in a Panorama City case has upheld the use of a device that is less intrusive and more accurate in gathering physical evidence of sexual abuse in children than the most common emergency-room methods.
The gynecological device, called a colposcope, was invented to examine women internally for cervical cancer. It can also take magnified external photographs, which its supporters say give reliable evidence of molestation.
The court ruled that the colposcope may be used and does not have to be inserted into patients, as a defense attorney had claimed. Prosecutors also need not have the court's permission to conduct the tests, the appellate court decided last month.
The case involves three girls, ages 8 through 11, who said they had been sexually molested by their mother's live-in boyfriend.
After their mother reported the alleged assaults at a hospital emergency room, the girls were seen by a doctor who found no evidence of sexual abuse when he examined them.
To gather more evidence, Deputy Dist. Atty. Kenneth Freeman had the girls examined by a doctor using the colposcope. That doctor said the device revealed scarring patterns indicating sexual abuse.
Although the case itself is stalled in pretrial motions, Freeman said last month's ruling "is extremely important because it validates the method and classifies it as non-intrusive."
"This is the first opinion handed down in the United States regarding colposcopic examination of a child," he said. "This is the very best result I could have ever hoped for."
Astrid Heger, the physician who conducted the colposcope examinations, and other experts on child molestation have said they hope to create a network of specialized trauma centers to provide physical and psychological examinations of children believed to have been molested. The colposcope would be used at such centers, Heger said.
In addition to working on the Panorama City case, Heger examined more than 30 children allegedly molested at the Virginia McMartin Pre-School in Manhattan Beach. On Wednesday she began testifying in the months-long McMartin preliminary hearing. She said she used the colposcope to photograph scarring patterns in six of the children. The patterns indicated "painful, forceful penetration" consistent with sexual assault and abuse, Heger said.