Attorney General Andy Beshear and the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs (KASAP) are working together to train hospitals on providing legally required services to victims of sexual assault.
Beshear’s office has provided KASAP and its executive director, Eileen Recktenwald, with $30,000 in drug settlement funds to create and administer the statewide training to better serve victims.
Under Kentucky law, all hospitals that offer emergency services must provide a free sexual assault forensic exam (SAFE) kit to all victims; contact a local rape crisis center to provide advocacy; contact law enforcement to collect reported kits when a victim consents; and preserve all SAFE kits not reported to law enforcement for one year in compliance with state law.
Beshear said his Office of Victims Advocacy and Department of Criminal Investigations have repeatedly heard from victims and advocates across the state about gaps in the current delivery of SAFE kits.
“Victims and advocates describe how victims are denied access due to inadequate resources and training on the law mandating hospitals provide these services,” Beshear said. “We are going to change this, and I applaud KASAP and our 13 local rape crisis centers for taking on this initiative so no victim of sexual assault will be without these services they deserve and require.”
Currently, KASAP and the regional rape crisis centers provide certification training for sexual assault nurse examiners, but, according to Recktenwald, KASAP is acutely aware of local needs and barriers facing victims who seek SAFE kits.
“Due to typically high turnover in hospital emergency departments, there is a need for a way to quickly train ER personnel to respond to sexual assault victims who need compassionate care,” Recktenwald said. “Funding received from the KYOAG will allow us to develop a short video and training material for ER personnel to be able to refer to quickly in order to respond appropriately.”
Beshear said earlier this year lawmakers were unable to pass Senate Bill 238 that would have mandated training for all medical professionals on laws pertaining to SAFE kits and victims’ rights. The bill died in the House Judiciary Committee when it was not heard.
“Despite this unsuccessful attempt by lawmakers, the funding by my office will now fill this void and help KASAP meet the widespread need for training of hospital personnel to ensure treatment of victims and collection of forensic evidence in Kentucky,” Beshear said.
The SAFE Act of 2016 (Senate Bill 63) ensures the submission of all SAFE kits, requires police receive training to conduct victim-centered sexual assault investigations and sets timelines for testing kits.
In 2016, Beshear provided $4.5 million in settlement money to lawmakers to fund requested KSP crime lab upgrades and an additional $1 million from the settlement to aid law enforcement and prosecutors in conducting victim-centered investigations and prosecuting sexual assault offenders.
In 2017, Beshear transferred $45,000 of interest accumulated to date from the settlement to help further fund the KSP crime lab.
In October 2017, Beshear established a sexual assault cold case unit comprised of a victim advocate, investigator, prosecutor and a Sexual Assault Kit Initiative coordinator from a three-year U.S Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance nearly $3 million grant. The unit will focus on investigating and prosecuting sexual assaults while providing key services to victims during the cold case process.
To further help victims, Beshear’s office has held multiple state trainings on the SAFE kit backlog; launched a collaborative research project with the University of Louisville to provide accountability to address the backlog; collaborated with KASAP to hold the #VoiceOfJustice video contest to raise awareness of sexual assault on campus; and created a Survivors Council.