Local hospitals to offer rapid DNA services for sexual assault victims
CHICO, Calif., Nov. 20, 2013 – Butte County has become one of eight California counties that will benefit from a new service that will rapidly process and analyze DNA evidence in sexual assault cases. The service, called Rapid DNA Service (RADS), will generate information that can help law enforcement rapidly solve crimes while also creating the best circumstances for prosecuting a case. Instead of taking months or years to process DNA evidence, the new system will do it in approximately 15 days through the California Department of Justice’sBureau of Forensic Services Jan Bashinski DNA Laboratory in Richmond, Calif. The program will begin in Butte County starting today in the emergency departments of Enloe Medical Center, Oroville Hospital and Feather River Hospital.
“We feel incredibly fortunate to be able to provide this much needed service to the victims of such a horrible crime,” said Mike Wiltermood, CEO/president at Enloe Medical Center. “For nurses to be able to tell their patients that the results will be looked at within 15 days will hopefully help in reducing the enormous stress and anxiety associated with the process of gathering evidence.”
RADS provides an approximately 15-day-or-less turnaround in DNA analysis, with evidence collected at three Butte County hospitals going directly to the Jan Bashinski DNA Laboratory. If enough DNA is found to generate a DNA profile of a suspect, the information is uploaded into the Combined DNA Index System. This national database, known as “CODIS,” compares the DNA profiles from evidence against known DNA profiles of convicted felons, adults arrested for felonies and evidence from other crimes. If a match is identified, the district attorney and law enforcement immediately receive an electronic notification.
The information generated from RADS can be used to identify suspects or link serial crimes, exonerate the wrongly accused, and provide useful data on sexual assault for the local area. Ultimately the service can prevent future crime while making the best use of investigative resources.
Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey hailed RADs as an important new crime fighting tool for local law enforcement. “We are grateful to Attorney General Kamala Harris in validating the quality of our county’s sexual assault team in offering this new service to us.”
The traditional approach to collecting evidence for a sexual assault case involves a sexual assault nurse examiner conducting a forensic medical exam of the victim at a hospital. Evidence such as bodyswabs is collected for a “rape kit”that is given to law enforcement. When a case is assigned, an investigator determines whether DNA analysis of the rape kit is warranted.
Using the RADS protocol, three samples of evidence considered to be most likely to contain the perpetrator’s DNA are collected by the sexual assault nurse examiner during every forensic medical exam and delivered directly to the crime lab. The rape kit continues to be collected in the same manner and is provided to the police and retained in law enforcement facilities in the event that further use is required.
The other California counties participating in the RADS program are Marin, Sonoma, Napa, Solano, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Lake. According to the DOJ, results as of September 2013 are:
- 96 percent of sexual assault cases were completed in 0 to16 days and 4 percent were completed in 17 to 25 days.
- Of the 368 cases that were completed, 45 percent (124 cases) generated a DNA profile that was uploaded to CODIS.
- Of these new searchable profiles, 33 percent (56 cases) have resulted in match, or “hit,” between the DNA profile generated from the evidence and a known DNA profile from CODIS.
Rocky Cruz, assistant executive director/program directorfor Rape Crisis Intervention & Prevention in Chico and a member of the Butte County Sexual Assault Response Team (SART), said: “For our survivors, their experience has an opportunity to be validated by the criminal justice system. But more importantly, that DNA will be available the next time the perpetrator strikes! No more ‘he said...she said.’”
The law enforcement agency responding to a sexual assault is responsible for authorizing the examination and transporting the victim to a designated SART hospital. Because the exams are conducted for the purpose of collecting evidence, the authorizing law enforcement agency is also responsible for reimbursing hospitals for the cost of the examination. The RADS program comes at no additional cost to the counties.
The arrival of the RADS program locally is thanks to the leadership of the Butte County SART, a collaboration of law enforcement, hospitals, public health and victim advocacy organizations. The SART has been working together since 2010 to improve response to sexual assault. Also providing support in bringing RADS to our area was the California Clinical Forensic Medical Training Center (CCFMTC), based in Sacramento. The center has been working closely with the Butte County SART to refine processes and mentor and train sexual assault nurse examiners.
At the August 2013 SART Summit II in Long Beach, Calif., the RADS program was introduced to the audience of sexual assault law enforcement and medical professionals. Jacqueline Winters-Hall, RN, an Enloe sexual assault nurse examiner and member of the Butte County SART, attended the summit and began working toward bringing RADS to Butte County. In October, Butte County was accepted to participate in the RADS program.
On Oct. 9,eight local forensic nurse examiners from Enloe Medical Center, Feather River and Oroville hospitals received training at Enloe Medical Center on theRapid DNA Analysis process. The training wasled byJulie Renfroe, assistant laboratory director, and Amy Rojas, senior criminalist,bothof the Jan Bashinski DNA Laboratory.
According to CCFMTC, the national estimates are 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men have been victims of rape or attempted rape. Children and young adult women are most at risk: Forty-four percent of sexual assault victims are under the age of 18, and 80 percent under the age of 40. More than 80 percent of victims know their assailant. Fewer than 40 percent of sexual assault victims report the attack to law enforcement agencies.
In Butte County in 2012, a total of 60 SART forensic medical examinations were conducted for people 12 years and older, 97 percent were female and 53 percent were under the age of 25, according to the Butte County SART Annual Report.
Cathy Raevsky, Butte County Public Health Department Director said: “Sexual assault affects all of us: the survivor, their significant others, the community and society. With rapid DNA testing, our community will come a step closer to having a swift, coordinated intervention when a sexual assault occurs.”
Communications Specialist, Enloe Medical Center
530.332.5589 office; 530.588.4411 cell
Enloe Medical Center is a local, nonprofit health care organization. For more information, please call 530/332-7300 or visit us online at http://www.enloe.org. Enloe Medical Center is located at 1531 Esplanade Chico, Calif. 95926.