This past summer, State Sen. Wendy Davis (R-Fort Worth) made waves with her ultimately unsuccessful filibuster against new state abortion regulations. Another bill, though, also made it through the state Legislature, one that will ultimately help the thousands of rape victims each year in Texas.
Senate Bill 1191 provided the Texas Department of Public Safety $11 million to address the almost 23,000 rape kits that are currently waiting to be tested across the state. It also requires that nearly all hospitals with emergency room services have trained medical personnel available to properly collect DNA and other vital evidence from victims of sexual assault. Previously, each region had a specified hospital for this, meaning that unaware rape victims sometimes had to drive to multiple hospitals before being examined. The new law allows investigators to work with hospitals to help ensure that evidence from these sexual assaults are obtained during the critical period immediately after a crime is committed.
“This is about identifying, tracking down, prosecuting and imprisoning sexual predators through smart law-enforcement work,” Davis told attendees to a Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council panel on the bill last week. “Assisting the effort to bring sexual predators to justice is just common sense.”
More than 100 nurses and hospital officials attended the event at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children. The specifics of the bill are still being fleshed out, but generally any hospital with an emergency room must have physicians and nurses trained in a basic level of forensic evidence collection—a standard still less rigorous than that required for the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners that most primary care centers have.
“Right now, some women go from hospital to hospital, and may go home and give up,” said Courtney Underwood, co-founder of the Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center. “We’re letting them fall through a dangerous crack.”
With these new procedures come new legal challenges, though, as well. More nurses will be asked to testify in trials, something they may not be familiar with, said Dallas assistant district attorney Erin Price. In those instances, nurses need to be objective healthcare professionals, not advocates, she said.
“Don’t help me, don’t try to help me,” she said. “The truth is the truth is the truth. Document everything and be objective.”