BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A team of certified nurses formed by the EBR coroner has made reporting sex crimes easier on victims and the consequences tougher for their attackers.
The state changed its approach last year on how it collects and examines evidence stemming from sexual assault cases. East Baton Rouge Coroner Beau Clark, MD said the goal was to protect victims and provide prosecutors with stronger evidence to try sex offenders.
The answer came in a team of forensic scientists, experts at collecting biological evidence. They were trained and certified as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE).
When someone reports a rape, an examiner is deployed to a local hospital to collect evidence from victims. Dr. Clark said the exams are more thorough than typical rape kits once conducted by hospital staff.
"The evidence they are trying to collect may not be where you routinely think it would be. It might be because the alleged assailant fondled a breast and that's where you would find your DNA," Clark said.
Dr. Clark said his team of experts has made a significant difference in the evidence collected across the seven-parish region. The SANEs are certified to examine victims 12 years of age and older. According to the coroner's office, in 2016 the response team worked 148 cases, 113 of them were in EBR, 30 involved regional partners, 5 were outside cases. So far, this year, the team has worked 239 cases, 165 in EBR, 47 of those were in the region, 27 outside.
"A lot of our nurses at this point have testified in court and the outcome of those cases have been successful," Clark said.
Dr. Clark said it is too soon to know how many convictions have come as a result of the new program, but he is confident prosecutors will now be armed with the forensic evidence they need see the cases through.
"Now that we have a system that can provide a lot of confidence to a victim they are more than likely to present and say please collect this evidence from me because I have confidence it will be done in a very confident and compassionate, comprehensive manner," Clark said.
The EBR Coroner's Office is expanding its team next year to include certified nurses who will be trained to do exams on children younger than 12 years of age. Dr. Clark noted, historically the majority of sexual assault cases involve young children.