In December of 2017, Adrienne was enjoying a party at a co-workers house when toward the end of the evening she was raped. She did not know her rapist and would not be able to identify him. Her mother drove her to Kaweah Delta emergency room to get a rape kit examination.
Adrienne and her mom thought Kaweah Delta was the place to receive the exam.
They were wrong.
Adrienne’s aunt wrote to the Valley Voice saying, “my friend’s daughter was raped at a house party and They took her to Kaweah Delta to have a rape kit done and they didn’t have anyone there to do the Rape Kit. She ended up being driven to Fresno, by an officer to meet a nurse at a clinic at around 1 am.”
Adrianne felt Kaweah Delta should have had qualified nurses available after such an ordeal.
“At the time, I wasn’t really concerned with it, only because I was glad to be getting helped at all. But later, when I was able to think things through, I was disappointed that at such a sensitive time in my life, after such a traumatic experience, another grueling step had to be added to the process. I had help getting to Fresno. But what if I had no cops, or family? What if I had a job or children I had needed to take care of?”
Hospitals Don’t Have Rape Kits
An American is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds, and hundreds of thousands of completed rape kits sit untested. But this isn’t an article about statistics. It’s about how rape victims are treated.
Unfortunately for Adrianne, she was the exception to what happens to sexual assault victims in Tulare County and not the rule.
According to Jennifer Boteilho, Program Manager of Family Services of Tulare County’s Rape Crisis Center, the majority of sexual assault victims receive the treatment they need in a comfortable environment and in a timely manner, it just doesn’t happen at hospitals anymore.
She said that in 2002 hospitals stopped administering rape kit tests. Twenty years ago Kaweah Delta and Tulare Regional Medical Center administered the exam, but hospitals were not able to keep Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) available 24/7 so they started contracting the service out.
Now, law enforcement agencies in Tulare County, including each police department and the sheriff’s department, contract with Forensic Nursing Specialists of Central California (FNSCC) who are specially trained to administer the rape kit. Kaweah Delta provides a free space in an undisclosed location where the victims can receive counseling and the exam.
FNSCC provides specially trained forensic nurses on call 24/7 in Bakersfield, Fresno and Visalia .
Jason Salazar, Visalia Chief of Police, said that when they get a call about a sexual assault from Kaweah Delta or a private citizen they send an officer to talk with the victim. The officer will either escort the victim to the special clinic or meet them there. The officer also calls the Rape Crisis Center and requests an advocate to provide support during the exam and provide counseling services.
Boteilho said the change has been for the better. “There are more minuses than plusses to getting an exam administered in a hospital. You have to be admitted and put on one of their gowns. Usually a sexual assault victim has no other injury than the rape.”
The location is much nicer than a hospital, says Boteilho, and is set up like anyone’s living room with an exam room over to the side.
So what happened in Adrienne’s case?
“The last few months there have been holes in the schedule,” said Boteilho. “FNSCC has worked out well but it’s not perfect. The problem is we are a low volume area.”
Boteilho said that FNSCC promises to hire and train new nurses but that it is a long process. Because Tulare County averages about 15 rape exams a month it’s difficult for FSNCC to provide on-the-job training. Each exam ends up taking two on-call nurses, the trainee and the certified nurse.
July and August have patches of three or four days where no SANE nurse will be available and Boteilho doesn’t see that changing any time soon. As a result, an assault victim occasionally has to go to Fresno for the exam.
Though the lack of services has been difficult for some, the situation is worse in Merced County.
Rape victims have to go to Clovis, about a one-hour drive from Merced, because the city hasn’t had a SANE nurse for years. In addition to the long drive, the victim is asked not to go to the bathroom, shower, brush their teeth, eat or change their clothes.
The exam itself can take up to four hours. Nurses collect blood, urine, pubic hair samples and they may be asked to provide expert witness during a trial.
Both Merced and Mariposa Counties have put out requests for bids to companies to administer forensic exams, but the committee in charge did not receive any proposals.
According to the Merced Sun-Star, “There are fewer requests for forensic exams for sexual assault in Merced than in other counties, pushing away potential bidders who could provide the service because they can’t justify investing the time and resources in this area.”
The system came up short for Adrienne but Boteilho has hope.
A new Rape Crisis Center in Visalia opened last year in a tranquil, two-story home that provides counseling and runs intervention and prevention programs.
Boteilho said she has already seen changes in the community and the social norms, and says with positive change in awareness we can prevent sexual violence and harassment in the future.