The V.I. Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Council (DVSAC), the Juan F. Luis Hospital and Medical Center (JFL) and Roy Lester Schneider Regional Medical Center (RLS) kicked off 2020 with a full week of sexual assault forensic examiner training sessions for emergency room staff and first responders from January 13th – 17th in both St. Croix and St. Thomas/St. John Districts. The training agenda, which was organized as a result of the V.I. Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) – an initiative of DVSAC – was provided by Dr. Linda Ledray of the Sexual Assault Resource Service and coordinated by DVSAC’s Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, Stephanie Oriol.
According to DVSAC’s Executive Director, Khnuma Simmonds, ‘Our SART has been working diligently over the last four years to improve the process for victims who elect to complete the forensic exam (also referred to as ‘rape kit’). The process improvement is driven by policies that will minimize victimization, effectively distribute and maximize on available resources and increase accessibility for victims while also establishing clear roles and promoting effective communication amongst stakeholders. Our aim is to ease the burden of recovering from this heinous crime by responding with sensitivity, competence and urgency – the SAFE training is just one avenue through which this is accomplished.’ Research shows that effective SARTs have resulted in higher reporting rates, higher percentages of prosecutions, better evidence collection, better patient cooperation, improved services for patient/victim, reduced wait times for evidentiary examinations and a better functioning system approach (SART, 2019).
The training which was also attended by community members such as the V.I. Police Department, V.I. National Guard and V.I. Partners for a Health Community, addressed a myriad of both practical and clinical issues including but not limited to evidence collection, confidentiality and consent, chain of custody, HIV prevention, thorough documentation, crisis intervention, crisis counseling, identification of genital trauma and the impact of evidence on criminal charges – just to name a few. Challenges such as outdated/backlogged rape kits and antiquated language on interview forms were discussed and submitted for further review and action by the U.S.V.I. SART while emergency room clinicians had an opportunity to practice simulated exams on a human model. Simulated scenarios offered variety and ranged in complexity from examining intoxicated/incapacitated victims to cases where parental consent is required.
Despite ongoing challenges that must be addressed promptly, Dr. Ledray who has worked with the U.S.V.I. SART since its revival in 2016 and also conducted training in 2018 stated ‘I was so pleased and excited to see how far your program has come in the two years since I was last in St Croix. Everyone has clearly been working hard to improve services to survivors and it shows. What a fabulous group of nurses in this class. Knowledgeable and enthusiastic about working to make things better one person at a time. It’s a privilege to have the opportunity to be a part of your process.’ The first training that was held in 2016 and sponsored by DVSAC, provided certification training on St. Croix & St. Thomas to over 14 registered nurses and healthcare providers from the JFL & RLS hospitals as well as trainees representing the Virgin Islands Police Department, Bureau of Corrections, Virgin Islands National Guard, Frederiksted Health Clinic and DVSAC for a total of 45 participants. In 2018, the Bureau of Corrections hosted a training with a focus on prison rape intervention and elimination at which time human female and male models were available for clinical exams. This year, JFL and RLS co-sponsored this 40-hour certification training for their staff – including nurses who are now able to perform forensic exams, serve as expert witnesses and qualify to take the exam for the International Association of Forensic Nurses (pending completion of additional fieldwork). DVSAC’s ongoing coordination and ability to designate a part-time Sexual Assault Response Coordinator to conduct training and plan community events such as ‘The Voiceless’ documentary screening on male sexual assault victims and the proclamation signing by the Honorable Governor Albert Bryan Jr. in 2019, are made possible by the State/Territory Coalition grant from the Department of Justice – Office on Violence Against Women. Many thanks goes out to all of the attendees, partners and financial contributors for supporting victims and preventing sexual assault by making this training a priority.
(Top: JFL SAFE Certificate Program Participants, Dr. Ledray, SAFE Clinical Model, DVSAC Executive Director (St. Croix); Bottom: RLS SAFE Certificate Program Participants, Dr. Ledray SAFE Clinical Model, VIPD Victim Advocate, DVSAC Staff (St. Thomas/St. John)
About the V.I. Sexual Assault Response Team: The mission of the V.I. Sexual Assault Response Team (V.I. SART) is to coordinate and implement an interagency response to sexual assault victims which promotes consistency, respect and cultural competency. The participating entities include representatives from the Juan F. Luis Hospital, Roy L. Schneider Hospital, V.I. National Guard, the V.I. Police Department, Women’s Coalition of St. Croix, Family Resource Center, the Department of Human Services, the Department of Health, Department of Justice, AIDS Education and Training Center, Primary Care GYN and other agencies representing a variety of disciplines from corrections to education. There is a SART team for both the St. Croix and the St.Thomas/St.John districts and their efforts are coordinated by the V.I. Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Council (DVSAC). Through the SART initiative, these agencies share certain community goals and purposes when investigating, prosecuting and resolving cases of sexual violence. The team has been meeting regularly since 2016 and is committed to providing leadership support for the development and implementation of interagency protocols that best serve survivors and hold offenders accountable.
About DVSAC: The VI Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Council (DVSAC) was formed by founding members on each island of St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John in 1997 to address oppression and systems advocacy. In 2013, DVSAC became an independent
organization and is recognized as the State/Territorial Coalition by the National Office on Violence Against Women and the Department of Health & Human Services. DVSAC aims to promote healthy relationships within our community by coordinating education and
awareness resources that advocate for the elimination of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and dating violence in the USVI territory to end domestic violence and sexual assault through prevention education. For more information on DVSAC’s programs, to join the SART or to volunteer for sexual assault awareness month activities in April, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org!