Sexual Offense Evidence Collection Kit Press Conference

Thursday, 22 October 2009
New York, NY

On October 22, medical experts, legal professionals, survivors of sexual assault and advocates, including staff and Board members from the Joyful Heart Foundation, joined New York State Deputy Secretary for Public Safety Denise E. O'Donnell at St. Luke's - Roosevelt Hospital in unveiling a new "rape kit" training video. The new video, A Body of Evidence: Using the NYS Sexual Offense Evidence Collection Kit, was designed for medical professionals to ensure that the inherently intrusive sexual assault evidence exam is less traumatic for victims and more productive for law enforcement.

The training video will be supplied to all medical professionals across the state, and feature's a video introduction from Joyful Heart Founder & President, Mariska Hargitay. The public release of the video was intended to increase awareness of the new rape kit-which was overhauled for the first time in 20 years-among both medical professionals and the public at large.

Denise O'DonnellDuring the conference, hosted at St. Lukes - Roosevelt Hospital in Morningside Heights, many experts joined Deputy Secretary O'Donnell including:

  • Frank Cracolici, President, St. Luke's and Roosevelt Hospitals
  • Susan Xenarios, Director of the Crime Victims Treatment Center
  • Lisa Friel, Chief, Sex Crimes Unit, Manhattan DA
  • Harriet Lessel, Executive Director of the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault
  • Jean Fei, Project Director, New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault

"A medical professional's first allegiance is always to the well-being of his or her patient," said Deputy Secretary O'Donnell, a former federal prosecutor. "But when confronted with a sexual assault, emergency department physicians and nurses have an additional and often unsettling responsibility - the collection of physical evidence. This evidence is absolutely crucial in apprehending sexual assailants, and stopping them before they can strike again."

Susan Xenarios, director of the Crime Victims Treatment Center at St. Luke's and Roosevelt Hospitals, said that in dealing with a sexual assault, medical professionals must strike a delicate balance between their clinical and legal responsibilities. She said the new kit and training video provides the medical community with the tools and insight to fulfill their medical and legal obligations, without shortchanging either.

"As a director of a crime victim's assistance program and a rape crisis center in a New York City teaching hospital, on-going training of medical staff is essential to maintain a high standard of care," Ms. Xenarios said. "Not only will this instructional video make a difference in the training of medical providers in New York State, I believe it will ensure a higher standard of medical care and collection of forensic evidence for all victims of sexual assault. At the very least, they deserve that from our medical institutions."

After introductory remarks, Deputy Secretary O'Donnell screened Mariska's introduction to the training. Following the video, Joyful Heart's Executive Director, Maile Zambuto, spoke on behalf of the Foundation, praising the Department of Criminal Justice Services for their leadership as well as the many organizations that contributed to the effort.

On behalf of Mariska, our Board of Directors, and our staff, we thank you for inviting us to collaborate and innovate with all of you. And on behalf of the 2000 survivors we will serve this year, we are so proud to be a part of this effort to bring compassionate, expert care to victims, and to bring perpetrators of sexual violence to justice.

Today is not only a day to introduce the vitally important new Rape Kit and training film, it is a day to celebrate the role that care, compassion and healing play in our communities, our society and our State.

What that looks like in practice is medical professionals ready, prepared, and trained before a victim comes through the door, NOT reading the instructions of the rape kit for the first time when a victim is on the table-an unfortunate reality that we still hear about today from the survivors who reach out to us.

Our hope is that this training film will lessen the trauma that a victim suffers in the aftermath of an assault and that the journey toward healing can begin.

As Mariska said in the film, we know that everyone heals differently. But for so many survivors, that healing process both begins and continues to be affected by the response of community.

At Joyful Heart, we envision a community that is strong enough not to turn away from the epidemics of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse. We envision a community that endeavors to shed a light of healing, hope and courageous awareness into the darkness that surrounds these issues. And that seeks to ignite a dialogue about how to collaboratively end the cycle of violence and abuse. We envision a community that says to a survivor.

We hear you. We believe you. We feel for you. You are not alone. And your healing is our priority.

-Maile Zambuto

Group at Press ConferenceMaile then introduced Jennifer Goodale, Board Chair, who shared her own experience as a survivor of sexual assault and her path to healing. She praised the compassionate care she received at the CVTC led by Susan Xenarios as well as the evolution of how law enforcement and medical professionals approach victims of sexual assault.

Joyful Heart's Vice Chair and former Manhattan Sex Crimes DA, Linda Fairstein, spoke next. Linda, who was involved in the creation of New York's first sexual offense evidence collection kit, described her time as a prosecutor before DNA evidence even existed.

"There is nothing more important in the quest for justice for rape survivors than getting the scientific evidence collected at the crime scene properly analyzed so that it can be used in the courtroom," said Linda. "This new sexual assault evidence collection kit, designed to reduce the victim's trauma during the exam, and to preserve the necessary evidence for the police and forensic biologists, is a critically important advance for the criminal justice system."

Also in attendance were Kim Oppelt and John Caher of the NY Department of Criminal Justice Services, former Director of DCJS Chauncey Parker, Colonel Deborah Campbell of the New York State Police, and Joyful Heart Board member, Peter Hermann.

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