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MAKING A DIFFERENCE : Sexual Assault Response Team: Removing Trauma from the Aftermath

Only one in 10 sexual assaults are reported. Victim advocates say this is at least partly because survivors must endure a medical examination and legal investigation that can add to the trauma of the attack. The process usually begins in the harsh and harried surroundings of a hospital emergency room and can leave victims regretting that they’ve reported the crime and medical staff upset that they couldn’t provide compassionate care. But a 6-month-old program in Long Beach aims to make the process easier by providing treatment from a team trained specifically to help victims of these attacks as soon as they are reported.

A COMPASSIONATE RESPONSE:

Long Beach Community Hospital teamed up with the city of Long Beach health and police departments, the nonprofit Sexual Assault Crisis Agency and a company called Forensic Nurse Specialists to form a sexual assault response team. Its law enforcement and health care professionals and volunteer counselors are on call 24 hours. Medical treatment is given and physical evidence of the crime is gathered without interruption in private, quiet surroundings at the hospital and at a pace determined by the patient.

“Women don’t report this crime not only because of their fear of the perpetrator but because of the examination process. Two years ago I became a sexual assault crisis counselor and I saw that the exams weren’t being done as thoroughly as they could. Just the waiting period to be seen by a doctor retraumatizes the victim. And I also heard detectives saying that the process could be improved for the victim and to help their investigation. So we worked to implement a team approach.”

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--Malinda Waddell, RN, Director of Forensic Nurse Specialists

How It Works

Long Beach police page the team and an officer escorts the victim to Long Beach Community Hospital. The three-member team meets the victim at an interview and examination room:

Police detective from the city’s six-member Sex Crimes Unit takes victim’s statement with entire team present.

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Sexual assault nurse examiner from Forensic Nurse Specialists a company of nurses trained in treating assault victims and gathering evidence, performs a detailed examination to find evidence of the assault by collecting hairs, fibers, secretions and tissue samples.

Sexual Assault Crisis Agency volunteer counselor offers support to victim and family and referrals for follow-up treatment and counseling.

Victim showers and puts on a change of clothing using “care packages” with items such as a new jogging suit, shoes, lipstick and mouthwash. These are supplied by the Assistance League of Long Beach.

The entire process usually takes about three hours.

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COSTS:

Long Beach Community Hospital donates office and examination space. City of Long Beach pays Forensic Nurse Specialists $500 for each investigation. Fee includes examination, laboratory work, documentation, photographs, court appearances and consultations with detectives and the district attorney’s office about the medical evidence. In their first six months, the team has treated 102 patients.

TO GET INVOLVED

Call (310) 594-6301.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

THE Problems

Time a sexual assault victim waits in an emergency room in Los Angeles County before an examination: 6-10 hours

Exams interrupted at least once by more urgent medical cases: 50%

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In addition:

While waiting, victims may not eat, drink, wash up, use the restroom or change clothes without compromising evidence of the assault.

While waiting, physical evidence of the assault, such as an attacker’s semen, may disappear or be destroyed.

Source: Long Beach Community Hospital

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