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Online Training To Tackle Sexual Abuse

29 March 2011

The University of Ulster has developed new e-learning courses to train health professionals in spotting the telltale signs of sexual abuse.

Dr Tara Moore from the Biomedical Sciences Research Institute (BMSRI), based at Ulster’s Coleraine campus, teamed up with the Faculty of Forensic and Legal Medicine (FFLM) at the Royal College of Physicians in London, and experts in the field to develop the courses called ‘Sexual Offences E-Learning’.

Nurses, midwives, health visitors, forensic physicians and family doctors are urged to undertake these courses which are designed as preparatory teaching for health professionals to complete the Society of Apothecaries’ Diploma in the Forensic and Clinical Aspects of Sexual Assault (DFCASA) examinations, and forensic physicians for the FFLM’s membership exams.

Dr Moore, from Ulster’s BMSRI, said: “If we can help professionals in contact with possible victims identify abuse and facilitate victims to go ahead with a successful prosecution, this can prevent a lifetime of abuse of the child and potentially abuse of many others by the assailant.”

The initiative has been funded by the British government’s Department of Health as part of its response to last year’s ‘Taskforce on the Health Aspects of Violence Against Women and Children’ and will go live online on Friday 1 April.

The government’s Public Health Minister Anne Milton gave her backing to the Ulster project.

She said: “Any form of violence and sexual abuse against women and children is totally unacceptable. The effects can last a lifetime and have a profound impact on the victims, and also their family and friends.

“For many victims, doctors and nurses are the first or only person they can turn to. It's critical that health professionals have the skills to identify victims of abuse and violence and offer appropriate support. We have funded this course to help any frontline healthcare professionals to spot signs of sexual abuse and to know how to respond. For some, there may be only one chance to save a life.”

Professor Ian Wall, President of the FFLM, said: “Education and training have a crucial role to play in raising the bar when it comes to spotting the signs of sexual abuse in adults and children. The course is ideal for doctors undertaking forensic physician roles.”

He also called on the Royal Colleges – including those for obstetricians and gynaecologists, paediatrics and child health, psychiatrists, pathologists and nursing, as well as other organisations – to encourage their members to sign up for this training.”

The e-learning course, for all health professionals who come into contact with victims of sexual abuse, has been welcomed by Jim Gamble, a former chief executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP).

Mr Gamble, said: “The number of cases of abuse that are reported to the police is woefully low, and of those that reach court, fewer than six per cent result in a conviction. The quality of forensic medical care clearly affects decisions to prosecute, and convict. Health professionals owe it to their patients to improve their skills in recognising abuse.”

Forensic medical examiner and Visiting Professor at the University of Ulster John Farnan, also leant his support to the initiative.

Professor Farnan said: “The examination of victims of sexual crime, violent sexual crime and drug facilitated sexual crime is a minefield for the “occasional forensic examiner”, and yet health professionals in many different disciplines find themselves involved in such cases with little or no specialist training. With conviction rates remaining stubbornly low, it is imperative that these professionals gain relevant specific expertise. This course and the DFCASA qualification should be undertaken by all Professionals involved in this challenging field of forensic medicine.”

The first 30 registrants for the course will have the £595 fee reduced by half.

For further information contact programme manager Mrs Sharon Shirley at or telephone +44 (0) 2870124805