New equipment will assist forensic rape exams
Tracey Cook, coordinator of the Crime Victims Compensation program, talks about new equipment for Somerset Hospital that will assist in forensic rape exams. (Photo by Judy D.J. Ellich / April 12, 2013)
The equipment — consisting of a camera, a Wood's lamp and a carrying bag — will be used to improve forensic rape exams in the hospital's emergency room, according to Tracey Cook, coordinator for the Crime Victims Compensation program. Cook is the sexual assault team coordinator for Somerset County.
A joint grant between Victim's Services and the Women's Help Center in Johnstown focused in part this year on guidelines and training. The three-year grant for $125,000 ended in December for Somerset County.
"April is the National Sexual Assault Awareness Month and it is a good time to showcase what is available in Somerset County for victims of sexual assault, as well as to present the equipment," Cook said. "We want the public to be aware of all the resources we have developed to create a better environment to help when people come forward to report abuse," she said.
Since the county's sexual assault team began to develop a protocol about two years ago, the number of reported sexual assaults increased about 500 percent, Cook said.
Included in this protocol is an anonymous reporting clause that allows the victim to receive necessary medical services, evidence collection and counseling while providing time to decide whether to prosecute, she said.
The county's sexual assault response team is an interagency group working to provide services for the community by offering specialized sexual assault intervention services. The team includes detectives, state and local police departments, a victim witness coordinator from the district attorney's office, victim advocates from Victim Services Inc. and sexual assault nurse examiners.
Somerset Hospital now has two sexual assault nurse examiners — Suellen Lichtenfels and Marcy Adams — who volunteered for their new roles and went through specialized training last summer. Victims younger than 14 are referred to Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh.
Sexual assault victims are psychologically traumatized by the incident, and upon presentation to the hospital they are often re-traumatized through the examination process, Cook said.
By having nurses on call who are specifically trained to perform exam's of sexual assault victims, the process is more efficient.
"You have an officer responding to a crime and you have medical staff responding to medical needs. Sometimes these two disciplines clash. The sexual assault nurse examiners can act as liaisons," Somerest Borough police Chief Randy Cox said.
An alleged sexual assault victim now has more aid available when the enter the hospital. They have a sexual assault nurse examiner, a law enforcement officer and a victim advocate who is there for crisis response.
"It is a team approach that is working," Cook said.