Medical evidence vital to assault victims’ health and cases

Erin Roof

Medical attention is crucial for rape and sexual assault victims. Evidence collected from examinations aid police in crime investigations. Exams also help victims heal after incidents.

People in Portage County who have been raped or sexually assaulted may need to go to a hospital other than Robinson Memorial Hospital for complete medical attention because Ravenna’s hospital does not have a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner.

Ted Gerak, director of emergency services at Robinson Memorial Hospital in Ravenna, said the hospital has employees trained to become Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners, but it has neglected to organize the program.

“We have had people go for the course,” Gerak said. “They have made initiatives before.”

Christine Isenberg, public relations director for Robinson Memorial Hospital, said most smaller, community-based hospitals do not have a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program. Physicians offer to redirect patients to nearby hospitals with these programs, she said. The hospital handled 20 sexual assault patients in 2005, she said.

Medical attention

Medical examination is vital to the well being of rape and sexual assault victims and their legal cases. Valorie Prulhiere, coordinator of victim services and certified Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner nurse at St. Thomas Hospital in Akron, said the free and confidential examination has been available for their patients since 1997. She said it is part of the hospital’s Developing Options for Violent Emergencies program.

“A medico-legal exam consists of a focused medical history, detailed assault history and a thorough physical assessment, including photography and physical evidence collection,” Prulhiere said. “Prophylactic antibiotics for sexually transmitted infections and emergency contraception are also available.”

Prulhiere said people should have the exam up to 96 hours after the incident. The exam also consists of a urine pregnancy test and rape examination using a “rape kit.”

“Physically, (a rape kit) is a box containing a series of envelopes and slides for trace evidence collections, including hair samples, swabs of fluids and debris,” she said. “The completed kit, along with the supporting documentation is turned over to law enforcement and eventual processing by the crime lab.”

Police investigation

While hospitals are required to report sexual assault and rape incidents to the police, victims do not have to notify police unless they choose to, Prulhiere said.

Kent Police Detective Karen Travis said a strengthened relationship with hospitals was the reason for a rise in victims reporting sexual assaults. She said the Kent Police investigated 42 sexual offenses in 2005.

Travis said it is important victims seek medical attention soon after the assault occurred because there is only a 72-hour window to calculate evidence for an investigation.

“Don’t shower, don’t bathe, don’t change any clothing, try not to go to the bathroom – all this destroys evidence,” Travis said.

Unfortunately, most victims wait one to two weeks to report the crimes, Travis said.

“Most times there is a big delay in reporting,” Travis said. “Victims don’t know what to do. They’re embarrassed. They think it’s their fault.”

Megan Novisky, a victims’ advocate with Townhall II, acts as a liaison between sexual assault victims, nurses and the police. She said victims’ advocates help people file police reports, accompany them to medical examinations and court hearings and provide emotional support.

She said many victims do not seek investigations.

“Rape is still the most under-reported crime,” Novisky said. “Only one in 10 rapes are reported. When someone is sexually assaulted, it is very scary going through the legal system. A victim advocate is going to support a person 100 percent, believe a person 100 percent and make sure she is treated fairly.”

Novisky said victims who want to use an advocate can stop by Townhall II at 155 N. Water St. in Kent or call the 24-hour emergency help line (330) 678-4357.

Contact public affairs reporter Erin Roof at [email protected]