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Forensic Compliance Resources

Note:  The information on this website is designed to:  (a) communicate the requirements of the Violence Against Women Act (as reauthorized in 2005 and 2013), and (b) offer recommended practices for implementation.  The goal is to highlight examples of communities striving to achieve a higher standard of the “spirit of the law,” rather than simply meeting the “letter of the law” for VAWA forensic compliance.  It is critically important that readers consult state laws and regulations, as well as local policies and protocols, because they may have additional requirements beyond those included in VAWA 2005 and VAWA 2013.  For more information specific to your state or territory, contact the STOP Grant Administrator or coalition of advocacy organizations providing services for sexual assault victims.  A listing is available from the website for the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. 

Timelines for Conducting a Medical Forensic Exam

Many community protocols specify a certain timeline for how many hours after a sexual assault incident a medical forensic examination will be conducted. The timeline is commonly in the range of 72, 96, or 120 hours. While the longest of these (120 hours) can be used as a general guideline, best practice is for each sexual assault to be evaluated on a case by case basis. The question of whether or not to conduct an exam should be based on the facts of the case, the victim’s history, the likelihood of recovering evidence, and the types of evidence that will be needed for successful prosecution. This issue is discussed in detail in a Promising Practices article from the e-newsletter for Sexual Assault Training & Investigations (SATI), Inc. The article was also published in Sexual Assault Report, Volume 10, Number 3, January/February 2007, p 33-47.

The issue of timelines for evidence collection is also discussed in the A National Protocol for Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Examinations (2013) (adults/adolescents), published by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women.

Exam timelines are also discussed in an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, entitled Care of the Adult Patient after Sexual Assault. It was written by Judith A. Linden and appeared in the September 2011 edition, Volume 365, Number 9, p. 834-841.

Forensic Exams for the Sexual Assault Suspect

This EVAWI training bulletin addresses the critically important (but all too often overlooked) source of evidence in a sexual assault investigation, the suspect examination. In our experience, we have found that most law enforcement agencies have failed to establish appropriate policies and procedures for obtaining comprehensive forensic examinations for sexual assault suspects which is unfortunate, given the potential for recovering probative evidence from the body as well as the clothing of suspects.

When to Conduct an Exam or Interview

This EVAWI training bulletin addresses the difficult question of when to conduct the interview of a sexual assault victim. In it, we argue that communities can go a long way toward improving our response to sexual assault by operating from the premise that we want victims to be involved in our response systems, so we should do whatever we reasonably can to help them do so. Sometimes we get so focused on our own policies and procedures that we forget to make accommodations that would encourage victims to participate, even if they entail some compromises that are less than ideal.

Use of Alternate Light Source/Negative Invert Filters to Improve Visibility of Injuries Under the Skin

During this EVAWI webinar, presenters Diana Faugno, Rachell Ekroos, and Debra Holbrook discuss alternate light source (ALS) technology, negative invert filter software, and digital photo documentation as each relates to patients/victims who have been strangled or physically abused. These technologies can be used by medical professionals at the time of an exam or by law enforcement professionals with assaulted persons who do and do not seek medical treatment. In addition to physical injury visualization, ALS technology may be used to identify dried fluids (e.g. semen, blood, urine) and other evidence (e.g. fingerprints) that can be collected for forensic analysis. Without these technological tools many of the samples might otherwise go undetected under standard lighting.

Sexual Assault: An Acute Care Protocol for Medical/Forensic Evaluation, Ninth Edition, 2018

New Hampshire offers this statewide protocol on the care of patients who have experienced sexual assault. This protocol is a statutory mandate for all hospitals and physicians in the state of New Hampshire providing medical forensic exams to victims of sexual assault. The Protocol is continually being revised in an effort to improve evidence collection outcomes for patients who have experienced sexual assault, to maximize the continuity of care for patients who have experienced sexual assault.

This project is supported by Grant No. 2013-TA-AX-K045 awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed on this website are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women.
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