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Bill aims to strengthen forensic training in sexual assault cases

Jul. 30, 2014 - 09:28AM   |  
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Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, will introduce legislation Wednesday designed to strengthen the Pentagon's sex assault forensic examiner cadre by improving training and certification, and requiring more personnel be trained in taking DNA samples and other physical evidence following an attack. (Karen Bleier / AFP)
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The Defense Department must improve its procedures for investigating sexual assaults by standardizing training requirements for medical experts who examine victims and analyze rape kits, a bipartisan group of lawmakers say.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, will introduce legislation Wednesday designed to strengthen the Pentagon’s sex assault forensic examiner cadre by improving training and certification, and requiring more personnel be trained in taking DNA samples and other physical evidence following an attack.

The bill would define who is eligible to serve as a sexual assault forensic examiner, require that at least one trained examiner be assigned to every military treatment facility and all Navy ships, and standardize training and certification across the services.

Boxer and Collins said their bill is needed because disparities exist between the services. For example, the Army and Air Force require their examiners complete 40 hours of course work and get hands-on experience, while the Navy requires their examiners to view a 14-hour DVD.

Also, on Navy ships not staffed with a trained forensic examiner, the service tries to transfer a victim to a trained examiner, but in cases when one can’t be relocated, providers “do their best to conduct the forensic examination using the instructions provided with examination,” according to a Navy statement to the Government Accountability Office in 2013.

“How can the military fully address the crisis of sexual assault within its ranks if it does not have the appropriate personnel to accurately identify such incidents in the first place?” Collins said. “Those who treat survivors of sexual assault should have the requisite medical training and the military should bring its procedures into line with current medical standards.”

“Ensuring that survivors of military sexual assault have access to trained forensic examiners is critical to bringing the perpetrators of these heinous crimes to justice,” Boxer said.

DoD received 5,061 reports of sexual assault from service members in 2013. Of those, nearly a third were “restricted” reports, meaning the victim only sought medical treatment following the event but did not assist in the investigation or disclose the identity of the attacker.

The bill has been endorsed by 20 nurse associations, according to a release.

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