WASHINGTON, D.C. - Representative Greg Walden (R-Hood River) is examining how to boost resources available to sexual assault survivors in America’s hospitals. During a hearing yesterday before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Walden focused on the availability of nurses and medical professionals trained to conduct rape kits and the challenges hospitals face in providing access to rape kits for survivors.
A rape kit is a specialized kit designed to collect evidence of a sexual assault, which can include swabs, a comb, and materials for blood samples. However, it can prove difficult for some sexual assault victims to obtain a rape kit due to the shortage of medical professionals trained to collect such a kit.
According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), a rape kit may be performed by a specially trained Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner (SAFE), a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE), or by a medical professional that lacks sufficient SAFE training to be a designated SANE.
During the hearing, Walden highlighted that some hospitals in Oregon and across the country are not staffed with enough properly trained professionals to treat sexual assault survivors.
“There are currently no federal requirements regarding SANEs in healthcare facilities. As is made clear in the responses to the committee’s letters, some states and hospital associations have made great strides, while others have not put the same emphasis on the problem,” said Walden. “I’d like to commend hospitals in my home state of Oregon for being forthcoming and helpful in our push to expand access to services for survivors of sexual assault, in communities urban and rural. Their partnership with the Oregon District Attorney’s Sexual Assault Task Force is an example of the work we hope to see more of across the country.”
GAO found that one of the primary challenges to maintaining a supply of SANEs was “weak stakeholder support for examiners,” specifically, that hospitals are reluctant to cover the cost of employing or training SANEs. According to PBS, in 2014, “[o]f the top 100 colleges as ranked by U.S. News and World Report for 2014, only four provided the exams in their student health centers, and twenty-two schools offered them at university-affiliated hospitals.”
Walden, who chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee, has directed the committee to investigate the shortage of SANEs as part of his effort to boost support for sexual assault survivors.
Throughout the investigation, the Energy and Commerce Committee spoke to more than 40 trauma-level I and II hospitals. The committee found that some of these hospitals have robust SANE programs that are well equipped to provide the best care to survivors of sexual assault. Others seemed ill-prepared to address the needs of sexual assault survivors.
The investigation also identified some promising models to expand access to SAFE rape kits. Several hospital associations highlighted grant programs to fund SANE training, including one online training program. Another association noted that they held a webinar to educate hospital staff on their obligations with respect to sexual assault victims. Finally, several associations pointed to telemedicine as one way hospitals are able to overcome some challenges to providing SAFE rape kits, particularly in rural areas where provider shortages are often more acute.
During the hearing, Walden shared stories of individuals who have sought treatment after being sexually assaulted only to be told by a hospital that they did not have the capability to assist the survivor. Walden said that was unacceptable, and that the bravery of sexual assault survivors to come forward to seek care at a hospital should be met with adequate resources to get them medical treatment and provide law enforcement with necessary evidence to conduct an investigation.
“These stories are heartbreaking. Unfortunately, due to the lack of data and tracking within hospitals, we cannot estimate how many sexual assault survivors face this very same experience when they attempt to report these crimes,” said Walden. “I hope that we can begin identifying some successful models that other hospital systems can apply to their own communities. In particular, I hope the use of technology, such as online training programs and telehealth, can begin to solve the issue of access in rural communities. Many health centers and hospitals in my rural district have a hard time recruiting health care professionals already, so expanding options for these communities is an extra challenge that we must take on.”
For more information on the hearing, including a background memo, witness testimony, and archived webcast, please click here.
Press release provided from Office of US Representative Greg Walden of Oregon.