MOCJ has spearheaded a number of initiatives to provide support for victims of sexual assault and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice.
Sexual Assault Response Teams
All HHC acute care hospitals have been designated by the New York State Health Department as SAFE Centers of Excellence, where sexual assault victims receive sensitive care within one hour of their arrival. At these hospitals, Sexual Assault Response Teams (SART), composed of specially-trained forensic examiners and rape crisis counselors, provide immediate state-of-the-art forensic and counseling services. SART programs, which operate around the clock, can minimize trauma to the victim and reduce the risk that evidence critical to law enforcement will be lost, damaged or overlooked. HHC SAFE Centers of Excellence are staffed by SART staff who have gone through intensive training, approved by the New York State Department of Health, including how to properly identify, collect and package forensic evidence; accurately document injuries; and attend to the emotional needs of rape victims.
Since June 8, 2008, all sexual assault victims over the age of 12 in New York City have been offered the choice of being taken to one of 19 hospitals that house a Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner (SAFE) program. By taking sexual assault victims to hospitals with a SAFE program, the victims receive 2 benefits: enhanced care and counseling and specially-trained evidence collection. SAFE programs provide sexual assault victims with 24-hour access to trained advocates and social workers, as well as specially-trained forensic examiners who collect evidence and are available to testify at a future prosecution.
Suspect Examination Kits
For years, evidence has been collected from sexual assault victims; however, the perpetrator’s body was rarely treated as a source of evidence. Types of evidence from perpetrators’ bodies has been sporadically collected in individual cases, but by creating a standardized protocol and a suspect evidence collection kit, the City is making this type of evidence collection available in a much larger number of cases.
In June 2008, New York City began conducting suspect examinations by examiners and physicians who are trained as part of the City’s Sexual Assault Response Teams. When the police have suspects in sexual assault cases and have reason to believe that evidence may be present on their bodies, they can bring the suspects to a New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation hospital for forensic examinations.
John Doe Indictment Project
In 2003, the City announced the John Doe Indictment Project. Under this initiative, the District Attorneys obtained indictments in rape cases when the perpetrator was unknown but DNA evidence was available. Through this process, we are able to stop the clock on the statute of limitations in these cases, ensuring that defendants can be prosecuted when their identity becomes known. As of September 2009, we have filed 117 John Doe indictments citywide. Eighteen of these cases were converted once the identity of the perpetrator became known, and 13 defendants have been convicted. In 2006, the City succeeded in changing state law and there is no longer a statute of limitations for rape and other serious sexual assaults. Because of this legislative success, there is less of a need to indict these rape and sexual assault cases within the 10-year period using John Doe indictments; however, this tool is still used to stop the clock on the statute of limitations on the violent crimes that often accompany sexual assaults, such as gun possession, burglary, robbery, and assault and is currently being used for that purpose.