Astrid Heppenstall Heger

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Astrid Heppenstall Heger is a Professor of Clinical Pediatrics at the USC Keck School of Medicine and the founder and Executive Director of the Violence Intervention Program (VIP) at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center in East Los Angeles.[1]

Heger has both a bachelor's degree and an M.D. from the University of Southern California.


In 1984, Heger founded the Center for the Vulnerable Child (CVC) for the evaluation of child abuse. This was the first medically based Child Advocacy Center in the world and currently evaluates over 10,000 child abuse and child sexual assault victims every year. This model program has been replicated in hundreds of programs around the world. Renamed the Violence Intervention Program (VIP), Heger established the first of its kind, "one stop shop" community Family Advocacy Center, offering medical, mental health, protective, legal and social services to victims of family violence and sexual assault throughout Los Angeles County. With increasing pressure from law enforcement and social services to answer the need for improved services for adolescents and adults, in 1995 the program added interventions for sexual assault and domestic violence. Today, the VIP also serves over 4000 victims of elder and dependent adult abuse. Most recently Heger has implemented a model "HUB" program with services for children at risk for or already in foster care. This center incorporates 24/7 forensic and medical assessments with an ongoing medical home with built-in mental health services and support services that include dental care, plastic surgery, mentoring and tutoring. Over the past two years the VIP has built and renovated over 50,000 square feet (4,600 m2) creating the S. Mark Taper Family Advocacy Center and the Santana House as a campus of services for children and families impacted by violence. This expanded space made it possible to expand HUB services and the creation of the Los Angeles County Elder Abuse Forensic Center.

In addition to her work providing medical and forensic interventions to children and adolescents impacted by family and sexual violence, Heger serves as a consultant to the Los Angeles County Coroner in cases involving child death or sexual assault in all ages.

She was an expert witness at the McMartin preschool trial.[2] Journalist John Earl believes that Heger's findings were based on unsubstantiated medical histories.[3] Critics have alleged that the questioners asked the children leading questions, repetitively, which, it is said,[4] always yields positive responses from young children, making it impossible to know what the child actually experienced. Others believe that the questioning itself may have led to false-memory syndrome among the children who were questioned. Ultimately only 41 of the original 360 children testified during the grand jury and pre-trial hearings, and less than a dozen testified during the actual trial. One of the children recanted in 2005.[5]


  • Evaluation of the Sexually Abused Child: A Medical Textbook and Photographic Atlas. ISBN 0-19-513126-6


  1. ^ "Astrid Heppenstall Heger, M.D". Violence Intervention Program. Retrieved 2007-08-21. Dr. Heger is an internationally recognized expert on the medical diagnosis of child abuse and neglect and sexual assault in all ages. The need for improved technology resulted in her pioneering the use of photo-documentation to document injuries associated with child abuse and sexual assault. Dr. Heger developed and implemented the first telemedicine link to provide quality case assessments at remote sites within the United States and around the world. Her groundbreaking work in child abuse has become the international standard of care and is the basis of her textbook, Evaluation of the Sexually Abused Child, published by Oxford University Press. 
  2. ^ "Judges Ruling Stops Defense in Abuse Case.". New York Times. 1985-12-27. Retrieved 2007-08-21. Central to the prosecution case is the testimony of Dr. Astrid Heger, a physician who examined many of the 14 children and testified that those she examined had been sexually molested. The defense said they wanted to call a medical expert, whom they did not name, to rebut the testimony of Dr. Heger. She is the chief examining physician of the Children's Institute International of Los Angeles, a nonprofit agency that investigates sex abuse charges. [dead link]
  3. ^ Children's Institute International
  4. ^ Fischer, Mary, "A Case of Dominoes?" Los Angeles Magazine, September 25, 1989, p. 132
  5. ^ "I'm Sorry; A long-delayed apology from one of the accusers in the notorious McMartin Pre-School molestation case". Los Angeles Times. October 30, 2005. Retrieved 2013-02-04. In the decade and a half since the defendants were set free, research psychologists have shown that it's easy to pressure children to describe bad things that never happened. False memories can feel real, though, not just for preschoolers but for older children as well. But Sapp, now known as Kyle Zirpolo, says he never had false memories: He always knew his stories of abuse were made up. The adults at the McMartin Pre-School "never did anything to me, and I never saw them doing anything," he says today. "I said a lot of things that didn't happen. I lied. 

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