Victim Care Stressed in U.S. Sexual-Assault Exam Guidelines

The U.S. Justice Department issued new guidelines covering exams for sexual-assault victims, making patient care the primary focus rather than evidence-gathering.

The protocol, an update of guidance released in 2004, is designed to set a nationwide standard of care. The guidelines will be voluntary for hospitals and mandatory for medical facilities working with federal prisons and the military.

The protocol “helps ensure that victims will be cared for with compassion and respect when they turn to hospitals for help,” said Bea Hanson, the acting director of the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women. “This not only improves outcomes for victims, it strengthens criminal cases.”

The guidelines for the first time urge examiners to provide emergency contraception to victims. Health-care providers with moral or religious objections can instead offer the victim information about how to receive contraceptive services.

The standards outline the ways evidence should be collected and the type of equipment that should be used during an exam. They’re also aimed at collecting more information from victims such as those with limited English proficiency or with disabilities.

The protocol describes how victims can have a forensic medical exam without pressing a criminal complaint.

One in five women and one in 71 men have been raped in their lifetimes and almost 1.3 million women are raped in the U.S. every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The protocol “helps us coordinate and improve our response when these courageous individuals do seek help from first responders including nurses, doctors, advocates, law enforcement, and prosecutors,” Attorney General Eric Holder said.

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