Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Jane doe rape kits an option starting next year

Starting next year, states are required to offer Jane Doe rape kits to victims who are too ashamed or scared to file charges or report immediately in rape cases, a change which, according to victim's advocates and forensic nurses, will encourage more victims to come forward and file charges earlier, before the evidence becomes unusable.

Carey Goryl, executive director of the International Association of Forensic Nurses, says "Sometimes the issue of actually having to make a report to police can be a barrier to victims, and this will allow that barrier to cease, to allow the victim to think about it before deciding whether to talk to police."

The Jane Doe rape kits are standard procedure in Massachusetts, and certain colleges and hospitals, but at $800, other jurisdictions do not cover the cost of a rape exam unless a formal police report is filed.

Beginning in 2009, states will have to pay for Jane Doe rape kits to continue receiving funding under the federal Violence Against Women Act, which provides tax dollars for women's shelters and law enforcement training. States will decide how many locations will offer anonymous rape exams and how long the evidence should be kept.

Emergency rooms typically use a "rape kit" to collect evidence for use by police and prosecutors. It consists of microscope slides, boxes and plastic bags for storing skin, hair, blood, saliva or semen gathered by a specially trained nurse. The victim's injuries are also photographed.

What makes a Jane Doe rape kit different is that it is sealed with only a number on the outside of the envelope to identify the victim. Police do not open the envelope unless the victim decides to press charges.

The FBI has recommended such an option since at least 1999.

"The idea is to collect the evidence now, while it's still there," said Scott Berkowitz, president of the national Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.

In Cecil County, MD, Jane Doe rape kits were offered 4 years ago after a rape victim recanted, and Anne Bean, director of a sex assault program, said giving the option to women whether to file charges or not crucial. Officials in Maryland keep the evidence for 90 days, while the victim decides whether to file charges. Using the Jane Doe rape kit encouraged a reluctant rape victim to undergo an exam, and her rapist was eventually tried and successfully prosecuted. 13 women have used the Jane Doe rape kit, but no charges have been filed against perps in Allegheny and Cecil counties.

"Just to let people know this option is out there is good, to say, 'It's OK, you don't have to prosecute if you don't want to,'" said Kathleen, a rape victim in Pennsylvania who spoke on condition her full name not be used.

Kathleen underwent an exam after being raped in Virginia in 2004, but her rapist was never found or charged. Kathleen said she wasn't offered anonymous reporting, but she has met rape victims in group therapy who regret not going for an exam.

"They're embarrassed. They don't even go get tested for STDs because they're so embarrassed," Kathleen said.

Forensic nurse Chris Lenz only offers Jane Doe rape kits to victims that medical professionals believe are in danger of not reporting.

"Of course we encourage reporting. That's what we would like. But when they're adamant they don't want to report — if we think, 'She's going to walk out if she has to go through with this,' — that's when we offer it."

Only adult victims have this right - cases involving kids and incest must be reported to the police.

No comments: