FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 14, 2008
MAYOR BLOOMBERG ANNOUNCES TWO NEW MEASURES TO PROTECT SEXUAL ASSAULT VICTIMS AND PROSECUTE SEX CRIME PERPETRATORS
New Suspect Kits – Akin to Rape Kits– Preserve Evidence and Create “Third Crime Scene” on Suspect’s Person
New Ambulance Protocol Will Bring Victims to Hospitals with Special Services
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg today announced that new Suspect Evidence Collection Kits will be used to collect physical evidence in New York City sexual assault and rape investigations. The new suspect kits, which will require the consent of the suspect or a court order, will make the collection of critical and time-sensitive evidence from suspects more routine. The Mayor also announced that under a new ambulance routing protocol, sexual assault victims now have the choice of being transported to hospitals with special care and counseling. In the past, emergency medical services teams have taken sexual assault victims to the nearest of the City’s 55 hospital emergency rooms. Now they can be transported to one of 11 public hospitals with Sexual Assault Response Teams (SART) programs or to one of 8 voluntary hospitals with an equivalent sexual assault program known as SAFE. The services provided include professional medical care, expert evidence collection and advice about bringing criminal charges against attackers. At the announcement, held at North Central Hospital in the Bronx, the Mayor was joined by Criminal Justice Coordinator John Feinblatt, Health and Hospitals Corporation President Alan Aviles, FDNY Chief of Department Salvatore Cassano, NYPD Special Victims Unit Commanding Officer Inspector Theresa Shortell and Harriet Lessel, executive director of the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault.
“We’re giving criminal investigators an important new tool in building sexual assault cases,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “In these cases, police typically gather evidence from crime scenes and from the bodies of crime victims, but now we’ll also obtain evidence from a third crime scene: the alleged sexual assailants themselves. The suspect kits, and the ambulance protocol, build on six and a half years of success in reducing the threat of sexual assault in our City, and in helping victims recover from these terrible crimes.”
“New York City sets the gold standard when it comes to dealing with cases of sexual assault,” said John Feinblatt, the Mayor’s criminal justice coordinator. “These new additions to the City’s comprehensive approach will help us continue to provide what every person and each case deserves – better services, and better investigations.”
“The Mayor’s plan to utilize Sexual Assault Forensic Examiners (SAFE) to collect evidence from sexual assault suspects is a natural extension of the comprehensive medical, forensic and counseling services we provide to nearly 1,000 rape survivors every year,” said HHC President Alan D. Aviles. “A forensic exam performed by SAFE medical personnel is more likely to provide evidence which could support the survivor’s claim of sexual assault and will ultimately lead to more convictions of perpetrators.”
“The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault applauds the City of New York and the FDNY for making sure that every rape victim they transport in the five boroughs of New York City moving forward will get to a Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner Center of Excellence (SAFE Center),” said New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault Executive Director Harriet Lessel. “These programs have been determined by the state medical authorities to provide the highest level of care. The Alliance will continue working with all parties involved to ensure that the quality and standards in designated centers are maintained and that assistance and proper training to EMS personnel is ongoing.”
Suspect Evidence Collection Kits
The suspect kit creates a standard procedure for the collection of valuable evidence that a suspect apprehended after a sexual assault may have on his or her body. This evidence could include bite marks, bruises, DNA, or distinctive marks that could be used to corroborate descriptions. Many of these pieces of evidence could disappear if not collected shortly after the sexual assault. The evidence will be collected with the consent of the suspect or with a court order that specifies the types of evidence to be collected.
“Police officers work closely with medical staff to make treatment of rape victims as professional as possible and the capture of their assailants more certain,” said Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly. “This program is designed to do both.”
This process, devised by the Mayor’s Criminal Justice Coordinator with input from forensic experts including District Attorneys, the Police Department, doctors and forensic biologists as well as the company that makes victim rape kits, will be used on rape suspects apprehended within 96 hours of a sexual assault. The suspect will be brought to a city hospital and forensically examined by a trained professional. The benefits of the suspect kit include the potential to corroborate information obtained from the victim, to document evidence of force, resistance, or injury and to obtain objective documentation of appearance of clothing, and the characteristics of the suspect, such as physical distinctions and tattoos.
All sexual assault victims over 12 years old are now offered the choice of being taken to a hospital that houses program with services for sexual assault victims. These 19 hospitals, including all 11 City Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC) hospitals, provide counseling and specially-trained evidence collection. These programs provide sexual assault victims with 24-hour access to competent, compassionate and prompt care within one hour of arrival, as well as specially-trained forensic examiners who collect evidence and are available to testify at a future prosecution.
“The Fire Department in recent years has introduced a number of new ambulance response protocols aimed at improving our EMS system by transporting patients to designated hospitals that offer advanced services for specific types of medical emergencies,” said FDNY Chief of Department Salvatore Cassano. “This new program will ensure that sexual assault victims now receive enhanced new services and care at designated facilities, and we are proud to partner with the Mayor’s office, participating hospitals and the advocacy groups who have worked so hard to make this new program a reality.”
As part of the protocol, the option to go SAFE emergency room, instead of the closest emergency room, will be given to all sexual assault victims in stable condition. This includes the Fire Department’s Emergency Medical Service (EMS) and other ambulance systems that are part of the City’s 911 system. A 2006 study of sexual assault victims found that 1,560 sexual assault victims were treated in emergency departments in New York City, and 45 percent of those victims were transported by 911 system ambulances.
Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) Program
Today’s announcement is built on the success of the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) program, launched at North Central Hospital in 2005. That program, now expanded to every HHC hospital, ensures that every rape victim receives care from a specially trained forensic examiner and a rape crisis advocate within one-hour of arriving at a hospital. That one-hour response time minimizes the risk that critical evidence will be lost, damaged, or overlooked. Since establishing the SART program in HHC hospitals, 1,804 sexual assault victims have received this heightened level of care. In 2007, 91% of victims were seen by the special team within 1 hour of arriving at the hospital.
Since 2002, the City has undertaken a series of initiatives designed to provide counseling services to rape victims and enhance the apprehension and prosecution of assailants, including the formation of the Sexual Assault Task Force; the establishment of the John Doe indictment program, which expanded the DNA databank; legislation that eliminated statute of limitations for serious sexual assaults; the opening of a state-of-art Forensic Biology Laboratory for the Office of Chief Medical Examiner; and the announcement of a contest to spur the development of a portable device to process DNA samples at a crime scene.
Stu Loeser / Jason Post (212) 788-2958
Ana Marengo (Health and Hospitals Corporation )
Francis X. Gribbon (Fire)
Paul Browne (Police)
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