Longform

Special Kay

Page 4 of 8

A person is a person, no matter how small
--caption added to a self-portrait by 6-year-old victim Amber Bass, on Dr. Rauth-Farley's office wall

"I'm Kay Farley and I'm a pediatrician," the doctor tells a gathering of attorneys at a Maricopa County Bar Association meeting. "I'm also very uncomfortable in a roomful of attorneys."

Most in the audience are criminal-defense attorneys.
She's a few inches over five feet tall, and is a few pounds over her fighting weight, literally. (The doctor was nearly a black belt in tae kwon do before getting hooked on scuba diving a few years ago and switching hobbies.)

Rauth-Farley first discusses the medical evidence of child abuse--or lack of it--in criminal and custody-dispute cases. She provides a chronology of what happens at the clinic when a child is referred there for an exam.

"What the child is telling you is the most important," Rauth-Farley says, "but I'm not the one who interviews the children about the allegations. That's Wendy Dutton's job."

As the clinic's gatekeeper, the doctor explains, Dutton hears what a child has to say about when and if she (a majority of the kids seen at the clinic are female) was abused. Dutton reports her findings to Rauth-Farley, who decides if a physical exam is called for.

"We could collect our $350 from the state and move on," Rauth-Farley says, "but I need a reason to believe something's happened to the kid. Then we'll examine. The child doesn't necessarily have to disclose something. Sometimes it's instinct, but I do go on something. . . . Not that the exam is traumatic, it's just not fun."

Each child who does get a physical exam undergoes a 90-minute drill: It's a checkup that ends with an examination of the genitals using a device called the colposcope. A series of magnifying glasses, the colposcope doesn't touch the subject, but allows the trained observer to better determine if abuse has or hasn't occurred. If evidence emerges and the police don't know about it yet, Rauth-Farley is mandated by law to report it.

She says most doctors are untrained in how to analyze sexual abuse, often with grave repercussions. She describes how, time and again, an emergency-room doctor or a family practitioner will tell a parent that a child has been abused, solely because of a hymenal tear.

"That's not necessarily true," Rauth-Farley says. "Too many doctors don't know a hymen from a head, or that the myth about 'busting the cherry' is just that, a myth. Even then, a perfectly normal exam can still be consistent with sexual abuse, depending. We doctors don't always have answers . . ."

The doctor tells a story of an 8-year-old girl whose minister father took her to the ER at St. Joe's. The child was bleeding badly from her vagina, and was too traumatized to talk.

"It looked for all intents and purposes that she had been raped," Rauth-Farley recalls. "They took her to the operating room, with the dad in the waiting room. Everyone was treating him like crap, very accusatory. As it turned out, I was thoroughly embarrassed by how they treated this man. They called me down there, and I spoke to the dad. He said they were coming back from church and his daughter was on her bike, that's all he knew."

She says she asked the police to check the little girl's bicycle. They discovered the child had impaled herself on a bracket that attaches to a reflector behind the seat.

Almost in passing, Rauth-Farley says prepubescent females may not be able to distinguish vaginal from labial penetration if it's momentary. In the audience, assistant public defender Candace Kent takes careful note. The attorney has a client accused of sticking his finger in his step-granddaughter's privates. Rauth-Farley is listed as a prosecution witness.

A month later, the case comes to trial. Rauth-Farley walks briskly to the witness stand in a Maricopa County courtroom. She's toting a black purse, and is dressed in a white pleated dress and red jacket, looking sharp and professional.

Waiting in the lobby minutes earlier, Rauth-Farley realized that the prosecutor accidentally had handed her a report from another case. A less experienced hand may have panicked, considering that the doctor hadn't looked at the correct file in more than a year.

Instead, Rauth-Farley chuckled, then mused, "Would have looked real good, talking about the wrong girl on the stand. Oh, well. Didn't happen. No problem."

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin