Expansion of Sexual Assault Examiner ProgramsNew York
New York's Sexual Assault Examiner (SAE) programs were established in 1995 to improve the delivery of emergency care to sexual assault victims.
SAE programs operate in metropolitan, suburban, and rural communities throughout New York State. Each program follows basic protocols, but also incorporates unique elements as needed by its service area. SAE programs may offer training to ancillary medical staff who have contact with victims, conduct public speaking and outreach activities, and train law enforcement and prosecutorial staff.
Most of New York's SAE programs are supported by federal STOP Violence Against Women Act funds, which are administered by the Division of Criminal Justice Services' Violence Against Women Unit.
New York's SAE program has four goals. The first and foremost is to restore the health and well-being of sexual assault victims by treating their physical and psychological trauma. The second is to develop a team of specially trained health care professionals to perform forensic exams and provide aftercare. Third, SAE programs seek to develop specialized training for future sexual assault forensic examiners. Finally, the program seeks to improve crime reporting and conviction rates for sexual assault through collaboration with law enforcement and prosecutors.
These programs have established procedures for standard and comprehensive care for all sexual assault victims and have examiners who are specifically trained to care for these victims. When victims sustain serious injuries, forensic examiners ensure that their medical needs are met first. Examiners are trained to provide a sensitive examination and collect forensic evidence as components of the overall treatment process. They are usually available to victims within 60 minutes of their admission into hospital facilities.
Private areas are dedicated for victim treatment within emergency rooms and may include separate waiting areas, exam rooms, showers, phones, and forensic equipment. Some programs also provide a change of clothing for victims.
Another essential element of SAE programs is collaboration with other agencies. These programs work with law enforcement personnel, prosecutors, emergency medical services, community organizations, and volunteers to integrate service providers under the umbrella of the SAE. This collaboration recognizes sexual assault as a serious crime that requires immediate attention.
Sexual Offense Evidence Collection Kits and Drug Facilitated Sexual Assault Kit
The Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) provides Sexual Offense Evidence Collection Kits free of charge to all hospitals in New York State. In November 2003, DCJS released a standardized Drug Facilitated Sexual Assault Kit, as was requested by various disciplines, to be used when service providers suspect that drugs were used to facilitate the assault. The division worked very closely with the Forensic Services Unit in DCJS, the New York Prosecutors Training Institute, state and local laboratory personnel, individual prosecutors, several sexual assault nurse examiners, and other individuals to ensure that this kit meets standards that all disciplines require. The kit includes two grey-topped blood tubes and a urine container for collection of specimens. It also contains instructions for use, a laboratory information form, and a consent form for authorization of release.
Making the Idea a Reality
The goal of DCJS's expansion effort was to ensure that the counties with the highest reported rape statistics had at least one SAE program. As DCJS looked at the top 20 counties, the division found that it was already funding programs in 14 of those counties. The state's Department of Health identified hospitals in the remaining six counties that would be administratively and financially capable of supporting a program and then offered those hospitals funding to initiate a program. This effort led to the successful SAE program development in19 of the 20 counties. The one remaining county was interested as well, but was undergoing a renovation of its emergency room and a change in administration at the time. DCJS then looked at the next five counties with the highest reported rapes and helped establish two more programs.
Benefits to Victims
Victims benefit from prompt, compassionate medical care and proper forensic evidence collection. A victim of sexual assault can go to any hospital in New York State and receive a rape exam, including the collection of forensic evidence. The victim has 30 days to decide whether she or he wants to turn the kit over to law enforcement. The hospital must maintain the kit for 30 days, but if room is available, most hospitals in New York will keep them much longer.
DCJS has found that most victims who receive an exam from a trained sexual assault examiner (as opposed to an emergency room physician) are more likely to turn their evidence collection kit over to law enforcement for pursuit of a criminal case.
Benefits to Victim Service Professionals
Laboratories report that the evidence collected by trained SAEs is generally better than evidence collected by emergency room physicians. Also, most prosecutors believe that victims are more willing to pursue a criminal justice case if their exam was conducted by a trained SAE.
In June 2002, DCJS conducted a survey of Sexual Assault Examiner Programs. Note that protocols have since been updated. For example, the survey references blood tubes in the exam kits, but New York now uses buccal swabs for DNA collection. [See SANE Prosecution Survey (Word) in this toolkit.]
Research indicated that prosecutors view SAE programs as a valuable resource in achieving successful outcomes in sexual assault cases. Many prosecutors surveyed believe that the involvement of a SAE in a sexual assault case makes it more likely that the victim will remain committed to prosecution, which they credit to the compassionate care and support shown by SAEs. In addition, laboratory personnel report that evidence collected by trained SAEs is very often superior to that collected by non-trained SAEs. Outcomes from this survey led to the expansion of SAE programs in New York.
Hospitals do not make a profit from SAE programs. In fact, they are more likely to lose money. That fact makes it difficult to explain to hospital CEOs what a SAE program is and why they should have one. Some hospitals refused to host such a program. Others viewed it as an opportunity to provide services for victims of crime, as well as to provide a great community service. It is very important to have the hospital completely buy in to these programs. Without this commitment, any SAE program has a huge potential for failure.
New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services
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Albany, New York 122033764