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Bills advance for assault survivors

As the House advances legislation that will establish new standards and programs in the field of forensic and sexual assault nurse examiners, the local Southside Center for Violence Prevention (SCVP) hopes the door will be opened for better awareness and communication regarding forensic advocacy.

House Bill 475, introduced by Del. Michael P. Mullin, of District 93 representing parts of James City County, York County, Williamsburg and Newport News, aims to establish a sexual assault forensic examiner coordination program with the Department of Criminal Justice Services.

The bill proposes the creation of an annual statewide sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) and forensic nurse examiner (FNE) training program. The bill also provides SANE recruitment materials for universities and colleges with nursing programs.

House Bill 808, introduced by Del. Karrie K. Delaney, of the District 67 serving Faifax and Loudon counties and part of the suburbs of Washington DC, requires every hospital in Virginia to provide treatment or transfer services to survivors of sexual assault. It also requires the Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund to pay the costs of services provided to assault survivors and establishes a task force to help facilitate the development of services for survivors.

Delaney’s bill also establishes a SANE program to increase the number of qualified sexual assault forensic services providers available in the state.

“We believe all patients, regardless of their financial situation, medical literacy, pre-existing conditions and ability to self-advocate within complex medical systems should have access to a variety of healthcare and forensic options, be given the information and support to make truly informed decisions, and to receive equality and excellence in care,” Dr. Michele Laaksonen, executive director at SCVP, said in reference to the bills.

Laaksonen said that as the forensic nursing field continues to make strides toward providing better resources to survivors, it is no surprise that legislation is being proposed to regulate the multi-million-dollar industry.

“We are excited that forensic nursing has reached the attention of legislators and look forward to the awareness it may bring to the public about the field and the conversations it may engender at all levels.”

According to a report commissioned by Delaney, only 16 of Virginia’s 122 hospitals provide sexual assault exams, meaning victims may show up to their closest hospital only to be told they must go elsewhere. The report also says that only 96 to 155 of the Commonwealth’s 93,902 registered nurses are SANEs.

In January, Prince Edward Commonwealth’s Attorney Megan Clark said the county would not be utilizing forensic advocacy services offered by Farmville-located SCVP and that Prince Edward would continue to send victims to Lynchburg until Centra Southside Community Hospital obtains FNEs or SANEs. The Herald reached out to Clark to see if either of the bills would affect her feelings toward the SCVP, but did not receive a response.