We expected more outrage after reporter Olivia Diaz’s March 20 account of two women who were sexually assaulted in 2018 by a man whose DNA was collected after a 2006 sexual assault in North Charleston. Because the first victim changed addresses between when she reported the crime and when her examination revealed a DNA match for a potential suspect, the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office ultimately let the case go. cool for years.
Whatever you think of the Sheriff’s Office dropping the ball – and we urge Sheriff Kristin Graziano (who took over after the crimes) to look into what happened and take appropriate action to ensure that whatever nothing similar will happen again – history reminds us that forensic sexual assault examinations can be powerful tools not only to solve rape cases, but also to prevent them.
That’s why we’re supporting a new initiative that encourages South Carolina hospitals and other agencies to better prepare to help victims of sexual assault.
As Steve Garrison of The Post and Courier reports, the SC Forensic Nurse Examiner Task Force has unveiled an accreditation program to encourage more hospitals to offer sexual assault exams to victims or help victims find a other hospital that does. The training includes instruction on how to perform this forensic work with precision and with the sensitivity necessary for victims of such traumatic crimes.
Accredited hospitals must have a staff member responsible for overseeing the tracking of sexual assault kits once they are collected. Victim advocacy centers and law enforcement agencies can also be accredited if three-quarters of their staff are trained in evidence-gathering and trauma-informed care. The SC Victims Assistance Network is offering free training for nurses this year to encourage more hospitals to participate.
Currently, only about a third of South Carolina’s 63 hospitals provide 24-hour access to sexual assault exams, and only a handful can perform them on children. We need to do better, and we can, as more nurses are trained in the proper conduct of examinations.
We recognize the challenge of conducting such personal examinations, but we also appreciate how critical their results can be in determining whether prosecutors can build a strong case against a suspect. SLED deserves praise for striving to become the state’s first accredited law enforcement agency. Yet it is not enough for law enforcement to increase their capacity to conduct examinations and work with victims. We also need better tracking: In 2020, a Post and Courier investigation found the state lab had 1,258 untested sexual assault kits, some of which were up to 4 years old. Victims had difficulty knowing whether theirs had been treated or, if not, when it might be.
SLED plans to launch a new database to help victims track the status of their kits and open a new forensic lab with more space and increased efficiency that will increase the number of sexual assault kits and other violent crime evidence that may be processed each year. These steps will help you. But we also need to make sure victims of sexual assault aren’t turned away from hospitals because staff can’t perform a forensic examination. And we need to ensure that the evidence gathered in reviews is of a high enough caliber to stand up in court.
The new accreditation push could also encourage hospitals, law enforcement and crisis centers to work more transparently with sexual assault survivors, says Sara Barber of the SC Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault . “Things are better for survivors when they all work together to find the best outcome and provide the best services.”
Thanks to the new task force — including members of the SC Attorney General’s Office, the SC Hospital Association, and the State Law Enforcement Division — South Carolina is poised to expand the quantity and quality of these exams in the years to come. It is now up to health care facilities, victim advocacy centers and law enforcement agencies to do their part and ensure their employees seek training and certification.
Late Monday, Ms Diaz reported that the suspect in the 2006 case had been convicted and sentenced to 60 years in prison for one of the 2018 assaults. The more sexual assault reviews available – the more they are reliable – the more criminals will be brought to justice. This, in turn, will keep the rest of us safe.