FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 25, 2004
MAYOR MICHAEL R. BLOOMBERG ANNOUNCES PILOT PROGRAM TO DELIVER STATE-OF-THE-ART FORENSIC AND COUNSELING SERVICES TO RAPE VICTIMS AT PUBLIC HOSPITALS
City’s First Mobile Sexual Assault Response Team Will Respond to Rape Victims at Bronx Hospitals Within One Hour of Arrival
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg today announced a groundbreaking pilot program that will deliver state-of-the-art forensic and counseling services to every sexual assault victim seeking treatment at any Bronx public hospital within one hour of a victim’s arrival. The new Bronx Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) will provide around the clock coverage for North Central Bronx, Jacobi, and Lincoln Hospitals, ensuring that every rape victim receives care from a specially trained forensic examiner and a rape crisis advocate quickly. The rapid one-hour response time will minimize the risk that critical evidence will be lost, damaged, or overlooked. Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, Criminal Justice Coordinator John Feinblatt, Chief Medical Examiner Charles Hirsch, Health and Hospitals Corporation Senior Vice President for Medical and Professional Services Dr. Van Dunn, Director of Social Work for Jacobi and North Central Bronx Hospitals Sandy Chaiken, Bronx County District Attorney Robert Johnson and Elisa Koenderman, Chief of the Bronx District Attorney’s Child Abuse/Sex Crimes Bureau joined Mayor Bloomberg at North Central Bronx Hospital for the announcement.
“The new Bronx Sexual Assault Response Team will allow our hospitals to deliver critical services to victims more quickly and efficiently than ever before,” Mayor Bloomberg said. “The result will be less trauma for the victims, better forensic evidence, and more certain justice for the predators who commit these despicable crimes. We expect success from this pilot program and look forward to expanding it to hospitals citywide.”
Currently, every rape victim who seeks treatment at a City hospital receives a forensic examination designed to collect physical evidence. However, not all victims are examined by dedicated, specially trained Sexual Assault Forensic Examiners (SAFEs) and many are not examined within one hour. The longer the wait, the more difficult it is on the victim and the more likely that valuable evidence will be lost. SART will provide a team of health care professionals dedicated solely to the treatment of rape victims in order to guarantee that every victim gets the best possible care and that no victim is forced to wait for it. The new SART pilot program will be tested in the Bronx and rigorously evaluated. If successful, the program will be expanded to cover all five boroughs.
The Bronx SART will be the City’s first mobile sexual assault response team. The Bronx SART will consist of a group of twelve to fourteen SAFEs whose activities will be coordinated by a dedicated project director working out of North Central Bronx Hospital. Its team members will be available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week to provide high-quality forensic examinations to every rape victim presenting at all three Bronx public hospitals – North Central Bronx, Jacobi, and Lincoln. Within one hour of their arrival, victims – regardless of the time of day – will be seen by both a SAFE-trained professional and a rape crisis advocate to provide emotional support and referrals to appropriate counseling and social services. The SAFE forensic examination will include a thorough physical examination, the collection of potential DNA evidence, and the documentation of both internal and external injuries with state-of-the-art photography. The rapid one-hour response time will minimize the risk that such critical evidence will be lost, damaged, or overlooked.
SAFEs are health care professionals who have received intensive training mandated by the State Department of Health. SAFE training includes instruction on how to properly identify, collect, and package forensic evidence, accurately document injuries, and attend to the emotional needs of rape victims. In January, North Central Bronx was designated a SAFE Center of Excellence by the State Department of Health, the first hospital in New York State to receive that distinction.
“The treatment that rape victims receive in the immediate aftermath of their assaults can make all the difference in the world,” said Mr. Feinblatt. “When physical evidence is collected correctly and without delay – and when victims are treated with sensitivity and respect – its better for them and better for the case. That is exactly the kind of service that the Bronx Sexual Assault Response Team will provide, and it will do it faster and more efficiently than ever before. It's the best way to ensure that victims – and rapists – get what they deserve.”
“This initiative represents good government at its best,” said District Attorney Johnson. “The Task Force determined that there was a need for greater efficiency in processing these sexual assault cases. This need was communicated to the Criminal Justice Coordinator and the City found a way to meet it. The expansion of our coordinated response will better serve the interests of justice for the victims and provide a greater degree of protection for the community at large.”
The members of the Bronx SART will also be available to testify as expert witnesses in criminal prosecutions involving their patients. In order to enhance the effectiveness of their testimony, team members will undergo an intensive training program designed and implemented by the Bronx County District Attorney’s Office. Training will focus on clearly articulating the basics of the forensic examinations and the nature and significance of the physical evidence discovered.
The Bronx suffers from a disproportionate number of rapes. While the borough contains 16% of the city’s population, it has 26% of the rapes. As with all criminal justice initiatives, SART is focusing on problem people and problem places and devoting resources where they are needed most. The Bronx SART will be funded by a Crime Lab Improvement Program grant from the Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice and a Violence Against Women Act grant administered by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. Both grants together total $400,000. The Bronx SART will begin operating on April 1. It is estimated that the team will provide services to approximately 200 sexual assault victims during its first year of operation.
Governor George E. Pataki said, “Compassionate treatment and services are critical to helping sexual assault victims overcome the trauma of an attack. I applaud Mayor Bloomberg and the Bronx hospitals for launching this state-of-the-art program and we are pleased to have contributed support to their efforts. We will continue to work closely with prosecutors, laboratory personnel, sexual assault nurse examiners and other partners across the state to combat sexual assault and make sure that victims get the services and care they need.”
Edward Skyler / Robert Lawson (212) 788-2958