Last updated: February 16. 2014 5:31AM - 1151 Views

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Sexual violence is one of the most prevalent crimes in the United States.

About 20 percent of women say they have been raped sometime in their lives, according to a survey by the Center for Disease Control, almost 40 percent by someone they knew.

But for a variety of reasons — from fear to shame to a lack of confidence in the legal system — researchers estimate 60 percent of rape cases are never reported to law enforcement. Of the 40 percent that are reported, about 10 percent lead to an arrest, and 4 percent to a felony conviction, according to the advocacy group Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.

So, the net result is that very few rapists — probably less than 5 percent — are ever punished, which almost certainly leads to more sexual violence.

A key step in changing that disturbing pattern is changing the way potential rape cases are handled on the front lines. Whether in a hospital ER or other clinical setting, responding properly to these cases requires a sophisticated blend of health care and forensics.

The patient must be treated for physical and emotional trauma, but there also is a crucial need to collect evidence that can hold up in a court of law. The best person for that job is a specially trained sexual assault nurse examiner.

Last week, the West Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill to set up regulations and training for those positions on the state and county level, which should go a long way toward improving the care for rape victims and the chances of making a case.

Speaking in support of the bill, Del. Carol Miller of Cabell County stressed the importance of collecting and documenting forensic evidence correctly to protect the integrity of the DNA, reported. She noted that West Virginia State Police Forensics Lab estimates that currently 75 percent of rape kits have collection or documentation errors.

Marshall University also plays a special role in providing some of the training for nurses on how to conduct adult or pediatric exams. The university’s Forensic Science Center already has trained 246 SANE nurses affiliated with 40 different hospitals, Miller said.

Developing a strong force of nurse examiners to handle these cases correctly from the start is critical to reducing sexual violence in the state, and we urge the state Senate to pass the bill as well.

— The Herald-Dispatch, Huntington

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