HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) — It can take years for some survivors of sexual assault to get their rape kits back from the lab.
With no way of tracking their evidence kit, some feel like they might never see justice.
Bureau of Justice statistics show that only one-third of sexual assault victims report the crime. Jimmy Richardson, the 15th Circuit Solicitor, and forensic nurse program coordinator Amanda Brown both think the sexual assault kit tracking system will force accountability throughout the judicial process.
A law requiring the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division to create a tracking system was signed in 2020. SLED is working with Invita Healthcare Technologies to launch its new track-kit system in South Carolina.
The software allows law enforcement, prosecutors, medical facilities, and, most importantly, the victims access to their sexual assault kits from the time evidence is collected all the way through the judicial process.
“After something like a sexual assault, they feel like their control has been completely taken away, you know, and so they don’t have any of that autonomy in that aspect of that,” Brown said. “And so I really feel like allowing them to be able to have this part and see where their kit is will really allow them to kind of have that control, you know, so that they can see and they will know in that moment who they need to contact if they have a question or they have a concern.”
Brown, a forensic nurse program coordinator with the South Carolina Victim Assistance Network, said that in South Carolina, evidence and examinations can be collected by any registered nurse. The issue, however, is that without proper training, evidence can be missed or not collected or preserved properly.
Forensic exams are meant to document trauma from the assault and collect evidence that could be used in a criminal trial. Forensic nurses go through specialized training that makes them qualified to testify in court and answer questions regarding the evidence collected if their patients’ case goes to trial.
Brown shared why there needs to be more forensically trained nurses in the area.
“So, we would love to make sure that, you know, moving forward and figuring things out logistically, how we can make that happen,” she said. “You know, I kind of tried to use like an analogy of, and this sounds horrible, but you wouldn’t want a labor and delivery nurse coming to do your open heart surgery, you know? Like, that’s just not what you would want.”
To help combat the issue, the South Carolina Victims Assistance Network launched a sexual assault forensic excellence destination program for all law enforcement, hospitals, EMS and various advocacy groups in the state to be trained on things such as evidence preservation and trauma-informed care.
Richardson said his criminal sexual conduct team has waited as long as two years for a sexual assault kit.
“It’s all about accountability. So that when a person goes through the effort to go to the hospital and have a rape kit performed, immediately, their barcode is put on that package,” he said. “And the victim can track that package at any time. From that point on, they can look and say, ‘well, look, why is my rape kit still in the hospital … they can find where their kit is just like an Amazon package or anything else, and that lends itself to accountability.”
The sexual assault tracking system pilot program is set to go live in mid-December. The area in South Carolina chosen for the program has not been decided.
SLED plans to implement the tracking system statewide in February if all goes well during the trial program.
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Savannah Denton joined News 13 in July 2023 as a reporter and producer. Savannah is from Atlanta, Georgia, and is a graduate of the University of Alabama. Follow Savannah on X, formerly Twitter, and read more of her work here.