Initiatives push for expanded assistance to sexual assault victims

Hospitals in California, Massachusetts and Texas are stepping up efforts to assist victims of sexual assault.

Starting Sept. 1, Senate Bill 1191 will require all Texas hospitals with emergency rooms to have physicians and nurses trained in basic collection of forensic evidence from sexual assault victims, reported The Texas Tribune.

The new bill will expand access to victims and allow them to seek services at any hospital ER instead of traveling hours to a facility designated as a primary care center for victims of sexual assault.

"It might be a vast improvement where people know they can get the services they need and the response they want locally," Kelly Davenport, an Austin Police Department sergeant who deals with sex crimes, told The Texas Tribune.

The bill was primarily authored by state Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth), whose inspiration came from stories of women who had to go to multiple hospitals for treatment and evidence collection after being sexually assaulted. "My fear is that some women won't continue to do that," Davis said to The Texas Tribune. "They won't go forward and prosecute their case." 

Massachusetts also has made great strides to facilitate service to victims of sexual assault. In February, the U.S. Department of Justice launched a telemedicine initiative in Massachusetts to help health providers improve assistance to victims of sexual assault. More than $3 million in federal funding will be used over three years to create the Massachusetts Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Telenursing Center, which will promote the most effective physical, emotional, and forensic care for sexual assault victims both in Massachusetts and across the country.

In addition to efforts in Massachusetts and Texas, by 2014, Lake County, Calif., will have two hospitals with staff trained to conduct forensic examinations, according to The Press Democrat. With newly trained nurses at Sutter Lakeside Hospital in Lakeport and prospective nurses at St. Helena Hospital Clearlake, the county's multi-agency Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) aims to reduce trauma.

"It's going to be amazing when we have those hospitals in the county on board doing sexual assault exams," said Crystal Martin, child abuse and sexual assault advocate for the Victim-Witness Division of the Lake County District Attorney's Office, The Press Democrat reported. "We'll have everything we need right here to take care of victims."

To learn more:
- here's The Texas Tribune article
- look at The Press Democrat story