When a person is sexually assaulted, it is recommended that she/he go to a hospital and call police. At that time a rape kit is often conducted. One organization is working to make sure every single one of those kits is tested. We asked police and other local agencies why that does not always happen.
Reports on the Rise
Anne Boatright is the SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) Coordinator at Methodist Health she says last year they saw 400 sexual and domestic assault cases, 314 the year before and 198 in 2014. She attributes the soaring numbers to better reporting and a better understanding of victims' needs.
What is a rape kit?
When a victim has a rape kit conducted, nurses will fill out various forms. They will use diagram pictures to indicate where injuries are present. That can include bite marks, scratches and bruises. They use a blue light to better see bruises and fluid left behind. They swab for various bodily fluids including semen. They also take photos of injuries and may even save pieces of clothing. The notes and materials are put into a box to possibly be used as evidence in a potential legal case.
Boatright says, "Everything here is patient-driven, and that is so important to us. This is never about us collecting it perfectly, this is about patients getting the best medical care possible and collecting forensic evidence if they want it. Any step of the kit can be omitted based on what a patient wants or doesn't want, no one ever gets forced into anything."
Learn more about rape kits here: RAINN, anti-sexual violence organization explains kits
What happens after a rape kit is conducted?
Law enforcement are given the kits as potential evidence in a case. But not all kits are tested. The Joyful Heart Foundation runs EndTheBacklog.org and is on a mission to identify the number of untested rape kits. So far, they've identified 175,000 untested kits nationwide. Omaha police are working to get us data on untested kits. Lincoln police tell 3 News Now that in the first three months of 2017, 13 kits had been collected, five have been sent to the lab so far. The Joyful Heart Foundation believes every single kit should be tested.
Why aren't some rape kits tested?
Omaha police tell 3 News Now there are various reasons why a kit may not be tested. Sgt. Marlene Novotny works with sex assault victims. She says if a victim does not want the case to move forward, the kit likely will not be tested. "Because in the end, it's nobody but that victim on the stand, facing her accuser. If I have a victim who doesn't feel they can do that or doesn't feel safe enough to do that, why would I want to make her life more difficult? That's not what we're trying to do."
Police are able to review what is inside a rape kit since the contents are inventoried on the outside of the box. Sgt. Novotny says sometimes the information inside will not help the case. "It's a known person and that person is saying it's consensual and that other person is saying it's not consensual, a testing of that kit would only show there was an engagement in sexual activity. It's not going to prove the crime."
Sgt. Novotny says the rape kit is only a piece of the investigation so cases do still move forward even if the contents do not prove the crime.
What's being done to help caregivers and victims in Nebraska?
Sexual assault victim advocates may offer differing thoughts on rape kits, however, nearly all are working for changes to help victims. In Nebraska last year, the legislature approved a universal kit to hopefully make the entire process smoother and uniform among agencies. And in Nebraska, a victim will never have to pay to have a test conducted.
What resources are available to victims?
Boatright told 3 News Now that the first point of contact after an assault can be the most important. If a victim reaches out to someone and feels like the person does not believe her/him, that victim is less likely to pursue legal action. She recommends, if someone comes to you and tells you about an assault, believe them and make sure you do not blame them. They need support. She says, let officials sort out the details.
There are plenty of resources available to victims in Nebraska. Please feel free to share the ones below. Many offer 24/7 services via hotlines. If you're in immediate trouble, call 911.