Victims of rape get help
The planned sexual-assault response team will improve emergency care
Thursday, 30 January 1997
Victims of sexual assault and rape will have a new ally beginning next month.
The Columbia/Boone County Board of Health hopes to begin operation of a Sexual Assault-Trauma Response Team by Feb. 14. Lane DePrima, a board member, said the team is designed to provide better medical and emotional care for sexual assault victims while helping preserve the physical evidence needed for successful prosecution.
“The program is an alternative to existing emergency room treatment,” DePrima said. “A specially trained nurse examiner and an advocate from a women’s shelter are dispatched to the hospital within 30 minutes of a victim’s arrival.”
The team is able to provide the exacting care needed by a sexual assault victim, said Elizabeth Grupp, a family nurse practitioner at the Family Health Center.
“The nurses are trained to meet her needs at that moment,” Grupp said. “The flow of the exam is based on what her priorities are, what she wants to do.”
DePrima said emergency rooms are not able to provide such immediate care to sexual assault victims. Victims are often forced to wait while patients who have serious medical conditions receive treatment.
“Those people are in life-threatening situations. They come first,” DePrima said. “The victim is forced to wait — sometimes they will leave the ER.”
The nurse examiner/advocate team will give a complete medical screening at no cost to the victim. The team will also work with the victim to collect and preserve physical evidence.
Kathy Bell, the director of a similar program in Tulsa, Okla., said the quality of evidence collected by special response teams is much better than that collected by the regular emergency staff.
Bell said more than 1,100 victims have been treated by Tulsa’s response team since it started in 1991. She said the high quality of evidence has forced many suspects in Tulsa to plea-bargain, saving the victim from testifying at trial.
“If you’ve got really good evidence, really good photos, it saves the victim the wear and tear of a jury trial,” Bell said.
Grupp said the team assists beyond medical care and evidence collection.
“Often what the victim needs, we can provide,” Grupp said. “A safe place to go, medication for sexually transmitted diseases, AIDS prevention information. She will also be encouraged to walk through the law enforcement process.”
Grupp said the program is a community effort. Columbia Regional Hospital and Boone Hospital Center have offered to provide space for the team’s examinations, and the team is working with local law enforcement and the prosecuting attorney’s office.
Sara Cook, a spokeswoman for University Hospitals and Clinics, said the hospital is not participating because it already has a similar program.
The program is being funded by the Columbia City Council, the Boone County Commission, the United Way and a state grant.
Grupp said the program could grow in the future. “We hope to expand the program to include all issues of violence — domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse.”
DePrima said the team’s formation is an example of Columbia’s progressive medical care.
“There are not that many programs like this in the nation, but it is headed that way,” she said. “It is good we are on the leading edge of that.”