Guest Opinions

New response teams, new forensic tools are fighting sexual assault across Idaho

A sexual assault evidence kit is logged in the biology lab at the Houston Forensic Science Center in Houston on Thursday, April 2, 2015. The new attention to sexual assault kits stems from a combination of factors: the persistence of advocacy groups, investigative media reports, the willingness of rape survivors to speak out and political support from statehouses up to the White House. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
A sexual assault evidence kit is logged in the biology lab at the Houston Forensic Science Center in Houston on Thursday, April 2, 2015. The new attention to sexual assault kits stems from a combination of factors: the persistence of advocacy groups, investigative media reports, the willingness of rape survivors to speak out and political support from statehouses up to the White House. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan) AP

Idaho is working on tangible changes to better protect and care for survivors of sexual violence from the moment their attack is reported all the way through the legal process. The next phase of this fight is to provide respectful and humane care to survivors — no matter where they live.

The changes we’re seeing couldn’t have happened without Idahoans working together and putting victims at the center of their focus.

Empowering survivors and giving law enforcement the tools needed to combat these heinous crimes has not always been a priority in Idaho. But today, thanks to the teamwork of law enforcement, hospitals, community advocates, prosecutors and state lawmakers, Idaho is being recognized nationally for its work on this issue.

A host of new laws are in place that are revolutionizing how Idaho collects, analyzes and pays for sexual assault forensic medical exams. This is a positive change for sexual assault survivors and the people who work to put attackers in prison.

More can be done, and is.

Leaders around the state are again working together to take the next step in combating sexual assault in all of our communities. In June, the Twin Falls Sexual Assault Response Team (“SART”) met to forge a strategy to help sexual assault survivors in the Magic Valley. Boise, Meridian, Canyon County and other jurisdictions around the state already have systems in place to provide support and resources to survivors. The work being done by the men and women coordinating these SARTs is critical to making our communities around the state safer and more humane.

SARTs include a diverse mix of medical staff, prosecutors, law enforcement, state crime lab experts, victim witness coordinators and community advocates. By teaming up, they help ensure a more uniform, comprehensive standard of care no matter where a victim lives. Having a SART in place often results in higher standards for evidence collection, tougher prosecution of offenders and increased reporting of sexual crimes.

Idaho State Police Forensic Services is now utilizing a federal grant to hire a statewide coordinator to provide resources to hospitals to train more Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (“SANE”). The goal is to extend standardized training and procedures required to conduct sexual assault exams to hospitals across all of Idaho — rural, urban and everywhere in between. The purpose of the SANE250 initiative is to train an additional 250 nurses around the state to provide these vital services to sexual assault survivors no matter where they live.

We are thrilled that, already, St. Luke’s and Saint Alphonsus, along with a half-dozen other hospitals around the state, are among the partners on board with the initiative. Not only will it enhance the skills of their workers and broaden the services their hospitals provide, it will provide an invaluable resource for survivors and local law enforcement.

Nurses in rural communities will know the most compassionate ways to help survivors while collecting key evidence that law enforcement can use to hold more perpetrators accountable.

We are proud of the great teams now forming all over the state. Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners are a critical part of a compassionate care model and an effective criminal justice process. By expanding these specialized skills to more of Idaho’s health care providers, rural hospitals are providing even more valuable services to their communities, partners and patients.

Rep. Melissa Wintrow is a member of the Idaho House of Representatives for District 19 in Boise. Katherine Kerner, MS, RNC-OB, is a program manager in the Women’s Service Line Department at St. Luke’s Hospital.

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