It’s likely to be several months before overnight sexual assault exams return to Central Peninsula Hospital, but it doesn’t mean that late night emergencies will go without care.
“I expect we will get called in for the real acute cases that cannot wait,” said Forensic Nurse Program coordinator Colleen James.
The suspension of overnight sexual assault exams program started on Nov. 4 and came as the hospital changed from an on-call to an on-duty forensic nursing system.
The old system offered no guarantee of work hours and it was part-time per-diem for the nurses involved.
“We’re trying to build sustainability into the program,” James said.
The on-call system held little incentive for nurses to remain committed to the stressful and hard-to-do job of being a sexual assault nurse; something that relatively few people are willing to do, said CPH Chief Executive Officer Rick Davis.
The issue is not purely a matter of money; we’re trying to find a balance of that turns it into fulltime work, he said.
Several CPH nurses are in a Sexual Assault Response Team training this week to how to administer forensic sexual assault exams. The three nurses join members of the local prosecuting attorney’s office and several local policing agencies and five other nurses from around the state to learn the complex nature of preparing usable evidence for prosecuting rape and sexual assault cases.
While the training will not provide enough nurses to reinstate the overnight program, James called it “a good start.” There is a big learning curve when it comes to collecting evidence that can standup in the courts system as a chain of evidence, she said.
“We are actively working on it,” James said of the overnight program.
According to a 2011 University of Alaska Justice Center Report on the Investigation and Prosecution of Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence and Stalking, the odds of conviction were expected to be significantly lower when the victim received a Sexual Assault Response Team exam.
“This may reflect an over reliance on the SART exams to prove cases at the conviction stage,” wrote the authors of the report.
Alaska has some of the highest rates of sexual assault in the nation. Child sexual assault happens here at six times the national rate, and we’re first or second with sexual assault of women, James said.
“It’s a very important health care problem,” James said. “If you don’t have someone like us to collect evidence to be used in court then you don’t have the evidence to hold perpetrators accountable.”
According to FBI Uniform Crime Reports, one rape was reported in Kenai and one in Soldotna during 2012, the most recent numbers available. Statewide, 583 rape were reported last year.
The FBI reports do not include incidents of child sexual abuse.
James said that last year CPH did 179 sexual assault forensic examinations — about half were done on children.
Numbers will not always line up, said Alaska State Trooper Sgt. Scott Briggs. If a report is not made within 96 hours of the sexual assault the victim is not likely going to go to the hospital for an exam.
Furthering the complexity of understanding how many in the community suffer sexual assault, a 2013 study on “Intimate Partner Violence and Sexual Violence in the Kenai Peninsula Borough” from the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, 30 percent of adult women surveyed experienced sexual violence in their lifetime and 2.2 percent in the last year.
Reach Greg Skinner at firstname.lastname@example.org