New Approach To Treating Rape Victims
A woman who has been raped often encounters painful and humiliating procedures when she reports her sexual assault. She is sent to a hospital emergency room where she may wait a long time for a medical examination and the collection of evidence that is needed to convict a suspect. She often has little privacy while she waits. In addition, she is asked to tell her story of sexual assault several times.
The National Victim Center estimates that only 16 percent of rapes in the United States are reported each year. This low reporting rate can be attributed in part to the cold, impersonal reporting process and the rape victim's fear of appearing at the trial of the suspect.
A program called SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners), established in Tulsa, Oklahoma and several other U.S. cities, seeks to treat the emotional, physical, and legal needs of rape victims with greater consideration and sensitivity. In the SANE program, female nurses are trained to handle the physical examination of the victim and to obtain physical evidence using a SEXUAL OFFENSE collection kit. In addition, the nurses are taught to interview the victim about the assault and to keep good records, which are critical to a successful criminal prosecution of the suspect.
Victims are seen in private rooms that are decorated to avoid the look of a sterile, hospital waiting room. The nurse examiner allows the victim to complete the examination at her own pace, in from one to five hours. A police officer is available to transport the evidence to headquarters, but is not allowed in the examining room.
Prosecutors have lauded the SANE program because its nurse examiners are better than emergency-room staff at confirming sexual contact and collecting evidence that shows the encounter was forcible rather than consensual.
SANE also gets credit for encouraging rape victims to agree to testify at the criminal trial of the suspect. It is believed that women who receive insensitive treatment during the initial stages of reporting a sexual assault do not want to proceed with prosecution. Because the SANE program treats victims with sympathy, care, and respect, women who have been examined through the program are more likely to agree to cooperate.
After the success of SANE in several cities and communities, other programs have also evolved. Several communities have developed a Sexual Assault Response Team (SART), which consists of community professionals who work jointly to minimize the trauma to victims of sexual assault when they seek medical or legal assistance. SART response teams coordinate their efforts to reduce the number of questions a victim must answer when law enforcement personnel and prosecutors collect evidence.
Members of a SART unit often consist of personnel from emergency departments and law enforcement offices. The effort is generally on a wider scale than SANE programs, and SANE and SART programs often work in conjunction with one another. Some communities have also developed programs involving Sexual Assault Forensic Examiners (SAFE), which essentially serve the same function as SANE programs.
In 2003, President GEORGE W. BUSH announced an initiative that would enhance the use of DNA EVIDENCE to solve crimes. As part of this proposal, several million dollars would be appropriated to support training and educational materials for doctors and nurses involved in treating sexual assault victims. Included in this initiative is funding for SANE, SAFE, and SART programs.
SANE-SART Website. Available online at <www.sane-sart.com> (accessed January 30, 2004).
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