A new partnership between Guthrie and Penn State University is designed to not only bolster the evidence collected in sexual assault cases, but also provide expertise and support to those collecting that evidence locally.
On Tuesday, Guthrie and Penn State’s SAFE-T (Sexual Assault Forensic
Examination-Telehealth) Center announced the launch of the local SAFE-T program during a virtual presentation for local law enforcement, community advocacy organizations and the media,
According to Sheridan Miyamoto, director and principle investigator with the SAFE-T Center, one in five women are raped at least once in their lives while one in two women and one in four men experience sexual violence other than rape. However, 75% of sexual assaults go unreported.
Through the partnership between Penn State University and Guthrie, Miyamoto said, “Our hope is that will encourage more people to come forward if they know that specialty care exists.”
The system includes a large screen and camera for general communication and examination, an iPad the patient can use to fill out questionnaires and other interactive elements, and a more remote camera that can be used for up close examinations and evidence discovery.
Miyamoto stressed that the system is completely secure, and the tele-health option is not used without patient consent.
“The great hope with this is that we have more forensically defensible exams, and that’s where it is important for us to work with law enforcement and the district attorneys to help them understand what is being collected and what might be a benefit to their case, and how they can adequately interact with the nurses to move those things forward,” she said.
The SAFE-T program is now in seven rural Pennsylvania hospitals in addition to the Penn State Hershey Medical Center. By establishing a network of health care providers, Miyamoto said examiners can share information, grow in expertise together, and curb the burnout and high turnover rate currently seen in the field.
Being able to work collaboratively is especially important given that sexual assault examinations can last several hours and involve 20 pages of documentation for the Department of Health, she noted.