Effective Sept. 1, Senate Bill 1191 will require all Texas health care facilities with emergency rooms to have a physician, nurse or physician’s assistant on staff to collect forensic evidence during the examination of a sexual assault patient.
Currently, Methodist Specialty and Transplant Hospital and Children’s Hospital of San Antonio are the only facilities locally with staff certified in the SANE Program, which stands for Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner.
The new law will no longer require adult victims of sexual assault to go to MSTH to have the exam.
But in San Antonio, the law isn’t expected to change much.
Hospitals still require properly trained staff, but most victims will still be referred to MSTH to be properly examined or a SANE nurse will come to them, depending on their condition.
“If you’re by yourself, can you imagine getting in the car and driving that many hours after you’ve just been sexually assaulted?” said Deana Buril, Director of Crisis Intervention at The Rape Crisis Center.
“Some of these patients are having to make the decision whether to put gas in their car or feed their family that week,” said Shelly Botello, Program Coordinator of Sexual Assault Response Team at MSTH.
Any victim that reports an assault to authorities or The Rape Crisis Center is referred to MSTH, as well.
But still, Botello said she is “nervous and apprehensive” about SB 1191.
SANE nurses go through 4 to 6 months of training to be able to conduct exams and collect evidence properly from sexual assault patients.
Under the new law, hospital staff are not required to through SANE training to collect evidence. Instead, they must take a 2 hour continuing education course.
“Not only is it not really fair to the survivor, its not really fair to the person doing that exam either because they’re not really going to be sure of what they’re doing,” Buril said.
And that’s the main concern - that evidence will not be collected properly and therefore the case cannot be prosecuted properly.
“We need to think of these victims with a holistic approach. It's not just the evidence or the kit. It's all of the care from beginning to the end of the case,” said Botello.
She adds that when the SANE program started in San Antonio in 1998, the prosecution of sexual assaults in Bexar County was approximately 6 percent. Today, it's up to 17 percent.
Forensic nurses at MSTH and Children’s Hospital will be available to other hospitals to help facilities transition into complying with the law.
SB 1191 does not affect the examinations of child victims of sexual assault.