Courts & Corrections

New law to expand access to sexual assault nurse examiners

Advocates say a new law will help improve access for Vermonters to nurses trained in giving examinations after sexual assaults.

Gov. Phil Scott signed the bill, S.95, into law Thursday afternoon, according to his staff.

Sarah Robinson, special initiatives coordinator for the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, said the new law will help to strengthen the state’s response to sexual assault.

The network runs the sexual assault nurse examiner program, which trains medical providers in how to provide medical care and collect forensic evidence after a reported sexual assault.

Robinson said it is important that Vermonters around the state have ready access to those medical professionals because it can be a first step in reporting the case to police, or in connecting victims to other key services.

“It maximizes the options that sexual assault survivors have,” she said.

There are currently 53 practitioners certified in the program in Vermont, and 14 who have a higher level of training, according to Robinson. Others have been trained but not sought official certification, she said.

Those providers are not distributed evenly across the state, she said. Four hospitals have either one or no certified nurse examiners. About half of the state’s total examiners are concentrated at the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington.

As a result, people who come into an emergency room after a sexual assault may have to wait more than an hour, or may need to travel to a different location, in order to have a forensic exam. Until they undergo an exam, they cannot change their clothes or shower. Robinson estimated this kind of delay occurs “weekly, at least” in Vermont.

The new law will require the program to work with the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems to ensure that areas where there is a shortage of trained professionals have access. That could involve creating a system where multiple medical centers share personnel with the specialized training.

The law also requires the creation of a study committee to examine the state’s tracking system for rape evidence kits. It will also expand the board that oversees the sexual assault nurse examiner program.

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Elizabeth Hewitt

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