FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 30, 2005
MAYOR MICHAEL R. BLOOMBERG ANNOUNCES EXPANSION OF SEXUAL ASSAULT RESPONSE TEAM PROGRAM TO PUBLIC HOSPITALS CITYWIDE
Success of Bronx Program for Delivering State-of-the-Art Forensic and Counseling Services to Rape Victims Leads to Expansion First to Brooklyn, and Plans to Expand Citywide in the Fall
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg today announced the expansion of the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) program to all three Brooklyn public hospitals, one year after the successful initiative was launched in the Bronx, and that the City is planning to expand the program to every public hospital in City in the Fall. The Bronx SART is a team of specially-trained forensic examiners and rape crisis counselors that provides rape victims at North Central Bronx, Jacobi, and Lincoln Hospitals with state-of-the-art forensic and counseling services within one hour of their arrival. The Bronx SART examined more than 90% of the rape victims at those hospitals within one hour - compared to 63% in 2003 - minimizing trauma to the victims and reducing the risk that critical evidence would be lost, damaged, or overlooked. Beginning in June, a new Brooklyn SART will provide the same services twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week at Kings County Hospital Center, Woodhull Medical and Mental Health Center, and Coney Island Hospital. Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, Kings County District Attorney Charles Hynes, Bronx County District Attorney Robert Johnson, Criminal Justice Coordinator John Feinblatt, Chief Medical Examiner Charles Hirsch, and Acting HHC President Alan Aviles joined Mayor Bloomberg at Woodhull Medical and Mental Health Center.
"The Bronx SART has proven to be an effective and efficient model for delivering services to rape victims," said Mayor Bloomberg. "Rape victims who come to any Bronx public hospital are now receiving the best medical, counseling and forensic services, and they're receiving them faster than ever before. This means less anguish for the victims - and more certain justice for those responsible for these heinous crimes. This should be the model for every victim in every City hospital in every borough, and expanding SART to Brooklyn is a big step toward achieving that goal."
Since it began operating in April of 2004, the Bronx SART has produced remarkable results. Through the end of December, more than 200 sexual assault victims were treated at Bronx public hospitals by SART personnel. Of those victims, 91% were examined within one hour of their arrival, compared to 63% in 2003, before the SART program began. In addition, 83% of victims consented to release their rape kits to law enforcement for testing, compared to 68% in 2003. Moreover, 30% of those kits yielded viable DNA profiles, compared to 26% at other Bronx hospitals. Finally, 83% of victims were examined for evidence of microscopic genital injury using a device called a colposcope, compared to 29% the year before. In 2004, rape complaints dropped more than 6% in the Bronx, including a nearly 20% decline in stranger rapes.
Currently, every rape victim who seeks treatment at a City hospital receives a forensic examination designed to collect physical evidence for use in criminal investigations and prosecutions. However, not all victims are examined by dedicated, specially-trained Sexual Assault Forensic Examiners (SAFEs), and many are not examined within one hour of their arrival. The longer the wait, the more difficult the experience for the victim and the more likely that valuable physical evidence - and her willingness to cooperate with law enforcement - will be lost. The Bronx SART directly addressed these problems by creating a team of SAFEs dedicated specifically to providing high-quality forensic examinations and counseling services to every sexual assault victim at all three Bronx public hospitals within one hour of their arrival.
All SART team members have received intensive training, approved by the State Department of Health, that includes properly identifying, collecting, and packaging forensic evidence, accurately documenting injuries, and attending to the emotional needs of rape victims. Coordinated by a project director working out of North Central Bronx Hospital, SART team members are dispatched around the clock to conduct thorough physical examinations, collect potential DNA evidence, and document both internal and external injuries with state-of-the art photography. Just as importantly, SAFEs are accompanied by volunteer rape crisis counselors who provide victims with emotional support and refer them to appropriate counseling and social services.
The Brooklyn SART will be based upon the same model as its predecessor. The team will consist of fifteen to twenty SAFE examiners, operating under the direction of a project coordinator. Team members will respond to every sexual assault victim at Kings County, Woodhull, and Coney Island Hospitals within one hour of their arrival and will be accompanied by volunteer rape crisis counselors. Brooklyn had the highest number of rape complaints in the City last year, accounting for about 31% of rape complaints citywide.
As with the Bronx SART, members of the Brooklyn 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 Kings 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.
"As the old stigma associated with the reporting of rape appears to be losing some of its power, SART can only help in encouraging victims to come forward and in preserving the evidence to put rapists behind bars," said Police Commissioner Kelly.
"Sexual assault is a violent crime that often has devastating, long-term, physical and psychological effect on its victims," said District Attorney Hynes. "The new Sexual Assault Response Team will help ease that trauma and, at the same time, greatly reduce the risk that valuable evidence will be overlooked. I thank Mayor Bloomberg and Criminal Justice Coordinator Feinblatt for bringing this team to Brooklyn and look forward to the benefits it will offer victims."
"The Bronx Sexual Assault Task Force quickly concluded that the creation of a Sexual Assault Response Team would be beneficial not only to victims, but to service providers and law enforcement as well," said District Attorney Johnson. "Once the benefits were identified, the Mayor's office was able to secure a grant to implement the program. The numbers cited today underscore the degree of success that we have had in the Bronx. It is clear that the needs of victims are being met more quickly and we expect that as these cases come to trial the success of the SART program will become even more apparent. For to the extent that we are able to strengthen cases against defendants in these incidents of sexual assault, it is less likely that they will be free to further endanger the community."
"In the hours after a rape victim shows up at one of our hospitals, we have a narrow window of opportunity to accomplish three critical goals," Mr. Feinblatt said. "We can minimize her trauma by connecting her to the services that she needs to recover, we can secure her cooperation by explaining the process and treating her with compassion and respect, and we can collect and document valuable forensic evidence. By providing topnotch services to rape victims - quickly and expertly - the Bronx SART has proven that we can achieve all three of these goals for victims in the Bronx. It's time to do the same for victims in Brooklyn."
"Our mission is to provide high quality and compassionate healthcare to all who seek our aid, and the SART program enables us to offer this assistance even more effectively to the victims of sexual assault," said Acting HHC President Aviles. "In addition to receiving prompt medical attention in a comforting, safe environment, victims of sexual assault who come to our facilities are given supportive social services, psychological counseling and, if they wish, assistance in filing criminal charges against the perpetrator. By offering these services within a victim's first hour at an HHC facility, we can help the victims of sexual assault make their first difficult steps toward recovery from this traumatic crime."
The Brooklyn SART will be funded in part by a Crime Lab Improvement Program grant from the Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice. It is estimated that the team will provide services to approximately 250 sexual assault victims during its first year of operation. Citywide, more than half of all rape complainants seek treatment at HHC hospitals. The Brooklyn SART is scheduled to begin responding to calls in June.
Edward Skyler / Robert Lawson (212) 788-2958
Paul Browne (Police Dept.)
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