The Value of Sexual Assault Response Teams, Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners & DNA Collection
Many communities around the country are benefitting from Sexual Assault Response Teams, or “SARTs“, which investigate cases of alleged sexual assault or abuse. SARTs are comprised of multidisciplinary professionals that collaborate in the investigation of these cases including law enforcement, prosecutors, mental health professionals, victim and child advocates, child protective services representatives and medical professionals such as forensic nurses known as “SANEs” (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners).
Research conducted by the National Institute of Justice shows that multidisciplinary SARTs improve the effectiveness of these case investigations and victim support by:
- Enhancing the quality of health care for children and adults who have been sexually assaulted
- Improving the quality of forensic evidence collection
- Increasing law enforcement's ability to collect information, file charges and refer to prosecution
- Resulting in higher prosecution rates over time
Specialized SANE forensic nurses are experts in the scientific investigation and treatment of trauma for sexual assault victims. These specially trained nurses perform forensic medical examinations with emphasis not only on the physical impact and evidence collection from an assault, but are also experienced and knowledgeable about the emotional effects victims suffer. Nearly 600 hospitals around the United States offer SANE programs.
What should I do if my child is sexually abused?
If your child is ever the victim of sexual abuse, hopefully your community has an active SART. Regardless, it is critical to contact local law enforcement or child protective services immediately upon learning of the abuse. Ideally, the child would be interviewed at a child advocacy center which specializes in neutral forensic interviews and follows a child-friendly investigation protocol.
If there is reason to believe a child has been sexually abused, it is important for that child to see a SANE professional (NOT the family pediatrician) within 72 to 96 hours of the assault… that is a key DNA evidence collection window. If the abuse took place beyond that timeframe, it is still important for a child to see a SANE for a wellness examination. Depending on the nature of any injuries a child may have sustained during an assault, this examination is of the upmost importance, regardless of when it takes place. While some pediatricians or their staff may be SANE certified, most are NOT. Again, SANE forensic professionals are experts in knowing what evidence of abuse may exist, however subtle, and work hand-in-hand with other members of the SART which can actually enhance data gathering during the medical examination.
DNA evidence is often crucial when these types of cases are prosecuted. Victims and their families are encouraged to take the following steps to protect any possible DNA evidence:
- DO NOT bathe or shower
- DO NOT use the restroom (hard to do, but try your best!)
- DO NOT change clothes; or DO NOT wash clothes worn before, during or right after the assault
- DO NOT comb or wash hair
- DO NOT clean up the crime scene
- DO NOT move anything the offender may have touched
The Office for Victims of Crime produced a terrific 20-minute video that explains the function and benefits of SARTs and SANEs.
In all cases of sexual assault, whether they involve adult or child victims, prompt action is essential to ensure the safety and well-being of victims, in addition to locating and holding perpetrators accountable.
Working to improve the world one child at a time, Ginger has made it her life mission to raise awareness of the world-wide epidemic of child abuse. An impassioned child advocate, trainer, speaker and child forensic interviewer, Ginger can be contacted via her website “Ginger Kadlec: 4UrKids™” at gingerkadlec.com or find her on Facebook at facebook.com/gingergkadlec.