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Police and the Sexual Assault Examination

NCJ Number
FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin Volume: 71 Issue: 1 Dated: January 2002 Pages: 14-17
Craig R. Wilson
Date Published
This article describes the sexual assault response team model, the history of sexual assault examiner programs, and the new leadership role law enforcement agencies may play in the collection of forensic evidence involving sexual assault cases.
In the United States, most law enforcement agencies rely on the sexual assault response team model. This model involves a coordinated response among a group of professionals that include: a victim’s advocate, a police officer, and a sexual assault examiner. The advocate provides support to the victim. The police officer investigates the facts of the case. The examiner assesses, documents, and collects forensic evidence and reports pathology or suspicious findings to the victim. At the present time, two team models exist. In the hospital-based program, a community hospital assumes responsibility for the administration of the program, including the training of medical personnel. In the community-based program, a non-profit agency assumes control. From a law enforcement perspective, these two models may not serve in the prosecution of sexual assaults. The primary purpose of a sexual assault examination is evidentiary-based, which assumes that law enforcement may later introduce findings of the examination as evidence against the defendant. But if team members approach the sexual assault examination with priorities other than the standards required of forensic evidence collection then the victim of the sexual assault is not well served. The role of forensic evidence collection and examination has traditionally been assigned to the police. In the area of sexual assault examination, the police have not assumed an active role. Law enforcement agencies may once again play an active role in the collection of forensic evidence of sexual assault cases. If teams focus on forensic standards and supply evidence needed to prosecute a case, then no changes may be necessary. If, however, teams do not focus on their primary roles, law enforcement should assume a leadership role. The examination remains a critical part to the successful investigation. It is imperative that agencies employ forensic examiners. The next step in the sexual assault forensic examination is designing a sexual assault examiner program with authority associated with law enforcement and staffed by full-time examiners with clearly defined missions. 3 endnotes