My Daughter Was Assaulted in a Hospital. Body Cams Could Have Brought Us Justice.

(Cavan Images / Getty)

Editor’s note: This essay contains references to child abuse and sexual violence.

I knew my child was a fighter her first night home when she went wild boar on my chest to get at my breasts. Like her ancestors before her, she is a survivor. I’m glad I didn’t know then all that she would endure.

When she was 16 months old, she had a cold with a fever. The neighbor’s baby, the same age, also had the symptoms. We had all hung out during the day with us moms putting them down for naps, giving them children’s Tylenol and watching them play. 

That evening, I made the mistake of putting her in a long-sleeved onesie. Her febrile, or feverish, seizure began while I was nursing her—she was choking on my milk. I was terrified. I ran out of our apartment with her in my arms, screaming for help. She looked purple. The seizures stopped and I instinctively patted her on the back to stop the choking. One of my neighbors, a nurse, put us in the car and drove us to the emergency room. 

Once there, they gave me paperwork describing a febrile seizure. They made it clear that a febrile seizure was the result of a fever spiking and was unlikely to cause permanent damage. I was tremendously relieved. If only the danger of that evening had ended there. 

The medical staff did not want to release us until she was given a catheter in case there was a UTI. They never told me that catheters to check for UTIs can lead to UTIs or that UTIs were not commonly associated with a fever in infants

My daughter is remarkably strong. She kicked her legs and did assisted presses into standing from nearly birth. She was an early walker and an early talker. She was savvy for a 16-month-old, and she knew a kind and nurturing environment. The hospital room was not a nurturing nor safe environment for her that evening. 

The first round of violence included several medical personnel attempting to hold her down and insert the catheter. The catheter insertion did not go in. She used her strong legs, arms and core—her entire body—to reject what they were doing to her. She made her body completely rigid.

She was crying. I was pleading with them, Can we please not do this? But they kept at it. What was a traumatic event spiraled out of my control and into abuse. 

One male healthcare worker in particular seemed to relish in the power of being “in charge.” He and I were in a battle; the more I tried to protect my daughter from him inserting this apparatus into her urethra, the more he insisted upon doing it. He discounted the 16-month-old patient on the bed in front of him. He had all the power. 

Afterward, they told me they were unable to get a catheter, so they would wait to see if she urinated during the next hour—as if she would be able to vacate normally immediately after that violation. We were never offered the non-invasive alternative of urinating before the attempt at a forced catheter. 

She did not do what they needed her to do in that timeframe and a small group of them came back. I cried and screamed inside as my daughter was assaulted again. They held her down and forced the catheter into her. She screamed on the outside. She buckled her body. She went entirely stiff. She cried, she yelled. We cried and tried to resist. We were not successful, neither were they. They told me they had still not gotten a catheter but they had caused bleeding.

I did not know the language, “I refuse these medical services,” to intervene on behalf of my daughter. 

Six people assaulted or aided the assault on my daughter for no medical outcome. 

I attempted a police report and they told me it was a sheriff’s issue. The sheriff’s office sat with me and told me it did not count as an assault because it was at a hospital. At the hospital, I was met with a public relations person who eventually wrote me a generic letter telling me they would address it in no specific terms. I took it up with my medical provider, and they told me that it was unacceptable, but they did nothing. I tried to get lawyers to take my case and none of them returned my messages.

The ramifications have been widespread and winding. For weeks afterward, she walked around, touched her private parts and said, “Ow.” For months after the incident, she touched her private parts, which I had not seen her do previously. The distress to me as her mother, failing to protect her, caused a high level of mental health problems. Following this incident, I felt more anger and anxiety with the police, legal and medical systems. 

Studies show that young children who are abused are more likely to experience abuse throughout their life. I try not to ruminate about how this incident may continue to impact her throughout her life. Will she be susceptible to partners who overpower and dominate her? Will she have PTSD? Will she have nightmares and not know where they are coming from? Will my daughter experience lifelong problems? 

We might think this is a rare phenomenon. However, a dear friend I confided in told me it happened to her when she was a child.  

Even if she doesn’t remember it, even if we are able to recover, this disturbance caused a period of domino effects that negatively impacted our lives. 

Even if we can continue to heal, it doesn’t erase the injustice. My daughter’s first experience with penetration in her private area was by an adult male, decades older, who overpowered her and refused to listen to her. He weaponized his authority to harm and call it medically necessary. He—not us—was safe and protected. 

To be sure, there are medically necessary intrusive procedures. My father had stints in his heart and a plethora of medical interventions that could be considered highly traumatic when he had cancer. However, as an adult, he could give consent in a way my daughter could not. 

As parents, we have to make difficult decisions for our children. Sometimes they involve the healthcare system. These times are often a negotiation of instinct, knowledge and trust in our medical professionals. 

When kids go through these difficult medical procedures, staff must establish consent in a way that this hospital staff did not. We were past the emergency; her seizure was gone. It had been properly diagnosed. I provided them with information that supported this diagnosis—namely that her friend had the same symptoms, minus the seizure. 

It was late at night. She needed rest, calm and tranquility. If we had been treated with such, we could have avoided much of the negative and impactful fallout this incident set into motion. Could the hospital have moved us out of the ER and into a room to wait for her to urinate on her own? Or they could have released us to go home with instructions to come back if her symptoms worsened. We lived five minutes from the hospital. 

This team, particularly the aggressive male staff member, was able to dominate my baby through the medium of her private parts. What if he is a sexual predator? I found no recourse to report this menace of a possibility. There are no mechanisms to prevent this abuse. 

Especially when male doctors are going to be in the vicinity of female private parts, there must be consent, at all ages, at all times.   

If the ER staff wore body cams, if I had a video of that hospital room to offer as evidence of the sexual assault of a minor—a toddler—as evidence that the Hippocratic oath was breached, then I would be less likely to be seen as a mother overreacting. We would have a pathway to achieve a modicum of justice. Without it, I am just another mother of a child who can say #MeToo. 

RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, has a 24/7 hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) and a chatline at

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