Forensic training proposed for nurses They would gather evidence in rapes

July 08, 1998|By Jill Hudson Neal | Jill Hudson Neal,SUN STAFF

Howard County's Sexual Assault Center and Howard County General Hospital want to fund a program to train nurses to collect forensic evidence from rape and sexual assault victims.

If their joint grant proposal is approved by the state, specially trained nurses would be on call 24 hours a day to treat and examine rape victims admitted to the hospital after an assault.

Cheryl DePetro, executive director of the Sexual Trauma Treatment, Advocacy and Recovery (STAR) Center and the grant's co-author, says evidence collected during a hospital exam begins a process that ends in a courtroom.

Forensic exams are "very serious and detailed," DePetro says. "In order to collect the evidence correctly, people must be specially trained and must approach the task with a different mind set. A doctor who sees you in the emergency room does not have the training for that type of thing."

Nurses working at Howard County General Hospital: A Member of Johns Hopkins Medicine would go through 40 hours of forensics training at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, where 90 percent of the city's rape victims go after an assault and where a forensic nursing program has been in place since early 1994.

Part of the training will include learning how to collect traces of blood, semen and other DNA evidence from victims and measuring the width of bruises and contusions on the victim's skin.

Nurses will also learn to examine patients with a calpascope, which takes pictures of abrasions inside the victim's vagina. Though the grant would pay for staffing the nurses at the county hospital, the hospital itself would be responsible for purchasing the medical equipment used in the exams, DePetro says.

Dr. M. Christine Jackson, medical director of the Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner Program at Mercy Medical Center, says the forensic program teaches nurses how to look at a victim accurately.

In the cases of rape, "the victim is the crime scene," Jackson says. "If a rape victim tells you that she's been dragged through the dirt, a doctor wouldn't know to look for the dirt and to collect it so that it can be used as evidence in a court" to convict those who sexually assault women.

Staff members from Mercy's SAFE (Sexual Assault Forensic Exam) program also hold conferences to teach nurses from hospitals throughout the state the finer points of forensic examination. The last day of the conference is devoted to information about gathering forensic evidence on pediatric cases.

"People really don't think about how this is a specialty," says Carole B. Kimmell, program coordinator of Mercy's sexual assault forensic examination program. "It's something that's much needed and it's really come a long way. I've seen too many instances where a case was thrown out of court because the exam was done improperly and the paperwork was incomplete."

Hospitals all over the country are training nursing staff members in collecting forensic evidence, Jackson says. "I think every county in every state should have at least one hospital that does this," she says.

Pub Date: 7/08/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.