In a recent study of six states, the Government Accountability Office found that rape victims in rural areas often have little to no access to forensic examiners who are trained in collecting and analyzing DNA (i.e. performing rape kits) immediately following a sexual assault.
“The report’s authors argue that training for examiners in each state is limited and hospitals are sometimes reluctant to cover the cost of the programs,” writes the Washington Post’s Danielle Paquette. “The pay for examiners, meanwhile, is often lower than typical Emergency Room staffer salaries. The hours also tend to be long and unpredictable—conditions that contribute to culture of burnout.”
After surveying Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Wisconsin, the DOA reports that many rural rape victims are forced to drive hours to receive a rape kit.
“If you’re in the mountains in the winter, and you’re told you have to go somewhere else, that can be a big barrier. Some victims never get tested,” states the study’s lead author, Katherine Iritani.
Via the Washington Post:
Wisconsin officials, for example, reported that nearly half of the state’s counties lacked a single examiner available for a patient who requested a rape kit. Nebraska struggled with the same imbalance.
It gets worse:
Turnover is also an issue, the authors wrote: Of 540 examiners trained in Wisconsin, only 42 were still on the job two years later.
In a recent effort to increase the support of sexual assault victims, the Justice Department handed out grants to train examiners in 227 programs in 49 states, but the results—according to the GAO—have been lacking:
In 49 states, approximately 227 grantees or subgrantees—referred to collectively as grantees—reported providing training for over 6,000 examiners in 2013. The type of training examiners received ranged from comprehensive examiner training to training on specific topics, such as courtroom testimony. The extent of examiner training efforts supported with funds from the three DOJ grant programs varied by state. For example, in about half of the states, fewer than 100 examiners received training. In addition, in the states where at least one grantee funded examiner staff positions in 2013, grantees funded less than one position, on average. Approximately 75 grantees in 26 states funded roughly 50 full-time equivalent examiner positions in 2013.
With only 2% of rapes resulting in the conviction of rapists, the DNA evidence found through rape kits can often be crucial to a victim’s case. Lack of support and access for victims, along with untrained or overworked examiners (the DC Forensic Nurse Examiners reportedly sees up to 60 patients a week), is merely adding an extremely harmful insult to an already egregious injury.
Image via the AP.