Opinion

Nurse training critical to prosecuting rape cases

An editorial from the Herald-Dispatch

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — 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…

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