MILWAUKEE (AP) — The Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault estimates that nearly half of the state’s counties do not have nurses available to perform forensic exams for sexual assault cases, leading people to travel long distances for such testing.
While hospitals can get state funding to cover the exams, a number of non-reimbursable costs are associated with them. Thus, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that many hospitals choose not to offer the exams.
Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel acknowledges that the system partly relies on the generosity of hospitals “because it’s frankly a money loser for them.”
Green Lake County detective Patti Crump says traveling is not only a strain on the victim, but is also bad for evidence collection.
Courtney Kolb, a case manager with the sexual abuse center for Green Lake County, said the bravery of coming forward to report a sexual assault is lost when someone has to travel long distances.
“It’s hard to report a sexual assault. If someone’s brave enough to make that first step and be told they now need to drive 45 minutes away and disclose to another complete stranger — you talk about how difficult that is.”
Schimel said he would look at the possibility of securing grant money to cover transportation costs of sending nurses to convenient locations for victims.
“It is up to our criminal justice system to demand that this be available to everyone, and I think the state has a role in making sure resources are available throughout the state regardless of where you live,” Schimel said. “But it’s easier said than done.”
Jennifer Fredriksen with ThedaCare said she’s worried about nurses falling out of practice and competency is areas where populations are sparse and sexual assault cases are rare.
Jennifer Pierce-Weeks, CEO of the International Association of Forensic Nurses, said that once nurses do not feel like they’re doing a good enough job, they would rather not do it instead of doing its poorly.
To keep nurses up to date on their skills, advocates suggest employing program coordinators, offering refresher courses and asking nurses to travel and to compensate them.