Title: Listening for deep understanding: sexual assault nurse examiners’ roadmap and the interconnected nature of forensic evidence and the critical role of interdisciplinary collaboration
Noël Busch-Armendariz1, PhD, MSSW, MPA, Donna Rolin, PhD, APRN, PMHCNS-BC, PMHNP-BC, Margaret Bassett1, LPC, Caitlin Sulley, LMSW, Shetal Vohra-Gupta, PhD, Deidi Olaya-Rodriguez2, MSSW, Jenny Black, BSN, RN, SANE-A, CA-SANE
1The University of Texas at Austin, USA
2 Washington University in St. Louis, USA
Abstract: In a four-year project, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) funded Houston Crime Lab to form a multidisciplinary Working Group to understand the reasons that nearly 6,700 sexual assault kits (SAKs) collected by a sexual assault nurse examiners (SANE) from sexual assault victims were never sent to the crime lab for testing. One of the Houston SAK Project objectives was to evaluate and improve the communication and operations of SAK collection and processing, including screening and analysis, to better understand SAK utilization by the criminal justice system and it has generated many sub-research projects. Researchers systematically conducted a case review of 50 randomly selected SAKs and facilitated crime lab staff and SANEs in a focus group of those cases. Findings included: (1) develop consistent terminology—SANEs, crime lab professionals, and investigators used different discipline-specific language creating challenges in an already complex system; (2) standardize optimal SAK manufacturing—patterns of inconsistencies in reporting was dependent on the type of SAK and the crime lab inventory was impacted; (3) Implement electronic medical records (EMR) for forensic evidence collection—handwriting was challenging to decipher; and (4) standards on evidentiary forensic testing needed improvement. This presentation will share additional research findings along with additional research and practical findings from this study.
Conclusion: SANEs are crucial to the preservation of crime scene evidence through SAK collection and are central to the linkage of that SAK to other potential crimes. The action research process strengthened partnerships, enabling productive discussions and changes to emerge and provide recommendations.
Audience Take Away:
- Increased knowledge about building an interdisciplinary team to address forensic sexual assault protocol
- Increased knowledge and understanding about victim notification
- An understanding of the critical role of SANEs in a holistic process of sexual assault response for communities
- SANE Nurses will improve their understanding and ability to communicate their roles and critical position in the forensic interviewing process with law enforcement and crime lab
Noël Bridget Busch-Armendariz, PhD LMSW, MPA is the University Presidential Professor, Steve Hicks School of Social Work and the Director of the Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (IDVSA) at The University of Texas at Austin. Busch-Armendariz is a nationally recognized expert in sexual assault, human trafficking, and domestic violence. Busch-Armendariz served as the co-principal investigator for inter professional collaboration of a four year project on untested sexual assault kits (SAKs) that was one of two in first-funded research-to-action projects in the United States by the U.S. Department of Justice, Institute of Justice Programs. The major aim was to bring together an interdisciplinary group of people an evaluate the circumstances that led to nearly 6,800 sexual assault kits being unrequested in Houston, Texas at the police department after being collected by a SANE nurse at one of the area hospitals. This demonstration project answered this critical question and together (law enforcement, prosecutors, advocates, crime lab personnel, SANEs, and researchers) cleared the backlog and began to make amends to sexual assault survivors by building new protocols and justice procedures.