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Bills to help sexual assault survivors signed into law

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed two bills on Wednesday that were proposed by the Iowa Attorney General’s Office to assist survivors of sexual assault.

House File 603 creates a sexual assault forensic examiner program, which will provide training and resources to health care professionals around the state.

Senate File 451 formally establishes a tracking system for sexual assault evidence kits and ensures future funding for the program.

“I want sexual assault survivors to know that their case matters, that they matter,” Attorney General Tom Miller said. “These laws provide critical services to survivors and increase accountability and transparency in the investigations of these crimes.”

Tracking system restores trust

In October 2020, Miller's Crime Victim Assistance Division completed the roll out of the Track-Kit statewide reporting system. The software program allows survivors to track the status of their evidence kits.

Senate File 451 codifies the responsibilities of the estimated 1,500 users of the reporting system at medical facilities, law enforcement agencies, crime laboratories, and county attorney’s offices. The legislation also sets forth requirements for the storage and disposal of kits, including requiring victim notification before disposal of a kit.

Crime Victim Assistance Division has trained staffers on using the software tracking system at nearly 90% of of the law enforcement agencies and medical facilities in the state, as well as the state crime laboratory.

Unit would boost nurse examiners

The goal of the Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner program is to increase the number of nurses who are trained in examining survivors after a sexual assault, particularly in underserved areas of the state. The training will increase consistency in how exams are conducted and how information is given to survivors at the time of an exam.

“If a survivor shows up at any medical facility in the state, we want a trained examiner to be available to conduct an exam,” said Janelle Melohn, director of the Crime Victim Assistance Division.

The new unit would be staffed with two full-time experts who can develop training that meets International Association of Forensic Nurse guidelines. The unit will also provide resources and assistance to examiners and to medical facilities.

"We're looking to provide standardization of care so that anyone who seeks treatment gets top-notch care," said Shannon Knudsen, sexual assault nurse examiner and co-founder of FoReNsics 515, an organization providing training to professionals who come into contact with those impacted by sexual assault. "We're looking to move the state forward and this is doing big things."

Nationally, there is a shortage of sexual assault examiners. The exams require specialized training and protocols, including when children are victims.

Iowa has many trained sexual assault nurse examiners, but the state has not had an agency leading training efforts, maintaining a list of trained examiners, or documenting all of the locations with trained examiners. Several states, including Nebraska and Illinois, have such programs.

In Iowa, the need for the program came to light through the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, an effort to reduce the backlog of untested rape kits in the state.

“Thank you to Gov. Reynolds for recognizing the importance of these bills. I also want to thank the floor managers in the Legislature: Sens. Julian Garrett and Zach Whiting, and Rep. Brian Lohse,” Miller said. “This couldn’t have happened without the support of law enforcement, health care groups, the Iowa Department of Public Health, the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault and other victim service organizations.”



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