Texas and Massachusetts are on the front lines of efforts to ensure that rape victims have access to trained medical staff in their communities.
Senate Bill 1191, authored by Texas state Senator Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth), will require that all Texas hospitals with emergency rooms have doctors or nurses trained to collect evidence of sexual assault, called a “rape kit,” beginning Sept. 1.
Davis, who made headlines in June after her 11-hour filibuster of an anti-abortion bill in the state senate, is again pushing for women’s rights in the Lone Star State.
The Texas Tribune reports that, currently, only 69 of the state’s 254 counties have at least one registered Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE). If victims of sexual assault go to a hospital that is not designated as a collection site for forensic evidence, they must travel, sometimes long distances, to have a rape kit taken.
Davis told the Tribune, “My fear is that some women won’t continue to [travel to multiple facilities]. They won’t go forward and prosecute their case.”
Not all hospitals will be required to have a SANE program, the certification for which can be costly and time consuming. Instead, they must all have someone on staff with “basic sexual assault forensic evidence collection training or education.”
Because state licensing boards have yet to decide how to certify nurses and doctors with this type of training, hospital administrators say complying with the new law could incur substantial costs.
Massachusetts is also stepping up its efforts to aid victims, with the February launch of the $3.3 million SANE Telenursing Center at Newton-Wellesley Hospital and other locations around the country. The program is funded through a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Justice.
This year, the program is in its planning phase, but for the following two years, the Telenursing Center will offer 24/7 phone and video counseling to doctors caring for sexual assault victims in underserved areas.
The first four pilot sites will be hospitals or clinics in a rural area, a prison, a Native American reservation, and a U.S. Naval facility, all locations with higher than average rates of sexual assault.
Massachusetts already has a robust SANE program, with 100 credentialed, on-call nurses at 27 hospitals and 11 Children’s Advocacy Centers across the state. (That’s one SANE for every 66,500 state residents, compared with one SANE for every 83,500 residents in Texas.)
The Telenursing Center will allow Mass. SANEs to share information and advice on evidence collection, psychological counseling, and legal processes around the clock.
“This amazing telemedicine pilot will increase access to forensically sound, victim focused services for adolescents immediately following an assault,” said Tom King, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Children’s Alliance, in a news release. “Once again, the Mass. SANE program is leading the national conversation while providing the best course to healing for the most vulnerable citizens of the Commonwealth.”