The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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February 11, 2013

Lawmakers seek to assist rape victims, police

CHARLESTON — A move is afoot in the West Virginia Legislature to provide sexual assault victims and law enforcement officials better tools in bringing criminals to justice.

Approved Sunday by the Joint Committee on the Judiciary was a bill that would create a sexual assault forensics examination board.

The idea is to get proper collection of evidence in such crimes, aiding not only the victims but police and prosecutors as well, explained legislative counsel Joe Altizer.

Altizer said the desire for such a board has been voiced in past interims sessions.

Promoters of the idea “want the nurses to be able to collect the evidence and properly preserve it so that it facilitates that evidence being used for criminal convictions,” he said.

“In many parts of the state, there are no trained nurses to collect it properly,” Altizer said.

The attorney said the West Virginia Prosecuting Attorneys Institute has been instrumental in working on a statewide training course — three days of in-service and two days of Internet instruction.

A group known as Foundation for Rape Information and Services has been advocating a statewide concept known as SANE — Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners.

Elsewhere, Altizer noted, one law known as “the Kentucky model” mandated that each hospital have SANE nurses available around-the-clock.

“This is problematical,” he said. “And the hospital association has some concerns about it  because of the lack of availability of trained nurses.”

In many rural pockets, Altizer pointed out, travel time is great.

“And many times this evidence collection is time-sensitive,” he said. “They’re having trouble providing this service in many rural parts of the state.”

Under the bill sent out with the committee’s approval, the concept would be implemented incrementally on a statewide level.

A board to get qualified SANE nurses would be administered by the Governor’s Commission on Crime, Delinquency and Corrections.

None of the 11 members would be paid, but members would include prosecutors, county governments, health authorities, the State Police crime lab, a victim’s advocate and an emergency room physician.

Delegate John Ellem, R-Wood, wondered if a potential conflict could arise if prosecutors served on the board.

Altizer acknowledged this was the first time this question had been raised, and said the idea of the involvement by the prosecutors would be only to help set protocols.

“We wouldn’t want the prosecutors involved in an advisory capacity in individual cases,” he said.

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com

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