Requests for forensic medical exams increases in D.C. as sexual assault awareness grows

Positive trends have been reported in Washington – requests for forensic medical exams has increased by about 70 percent since 2010, which indicates that people are becoming more and more aware of the procedures they can turn to and are more motivated to defend their rights.

Washington Hospital Center. Image via Biz Journals.

Nurse examiners in D.C. have performed 421 exams since last October, according to Heather DeVore, president and CEO of D.C. Forensic Nurse Examiners. These forensic exams have two main functions: first, to immediately care for the rape survivor and see if there are any obvious or hidden physical injuries, and then to collect any evidence that may be useful in the investigation.

The exams are invasive but should be carried immediately (ideally under less than 30 minutes after the assault) only by specialized nurses. Included in the exam is a head-to-toe examination, hair and urine samples and examination of any injuries. In the city, there is actually a specialized task force.

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Forensic medical exams are only available in D.C. at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, and thanks to a city-funded program, victims can get to the hospital. DeVore said the availability of the exams has likely spread through “word of mouth,” but this program might have also helped.

The response of other invested agencies has also improved, thanks to continuous monitoring.

“We’re always looking at evaluating that response and looking at the agencies,” DeVore said.

Judy Malmgren, a member of the International Association of Forensic Nurses and a forensic nurse examiner in Santa Barbara, California has stated that throughout her career, the number of forensic medical exams has remained the same, and the same can be said for most of the country. It would be interesting to see what made D.C. so different.

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