Gov. John Hickenlooper has signed legislation that will require colleges to designate a nearby medical facility where their students can receive Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) exams – known as rape kits.
SANE exams are widely understood as a best practice in diagnosing injuries and directing medical treatment after a sexual assault. They also collect evidence that can be crucial in proving the crime, and putting attackers behind bars.
The new law follows a Rocky Mountain PBS I-News investigation in November that found that rape kits are not offered in student health clinics around the state, or at most campuses nationwide. The I-News story came as campus rape has gained traction as a national political issue.
“For the survivor, it’s important for them to know they have been medically cleared, that they are getting proper medical care,” Boulder sex crimes prosecutor Katharina Booth told I-News last fall. “As a prosecutor, the SANE exam often gives us vital evidence that helps us prove fundamental elements of the crime of sexual assault.”
Rep. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, who co-sponsored the bill, said “there was outcry in the public to stand up for rape survivors.” Hickenlooper signed the bill into law May 4.
At the time of the I-News report, neither of the state’s two biggest college towns – Boulder or Fort Collins – offered local access to rape kits. Foothills Hospital in Boulder began offering the exams in March. Colorado State University directs its students to a hospital in Loveland, 15 miles away.
Without direct access to the exam, said prosecutor Booth, “I think we miss a large majority of our sexual assault survivors coming forward, getting the care they need or deciding to report to police, because when they’re turned away (from the hospital) they go home. They crawl back in bed.”
The law also mandates that campus health center staff receive training from SANE nurses with an overview of forensic exams, where they are offered, and what transportation options may be available.
It doesn’t require colleges to offer forensic exams on campus, or to provide transportation to medical facilities that offer the exams.
Danielson said she would have liked to require all colleges to provide SANE exams at their campus health clinics. But that would be expensive, and unlikely to pass given a stretched state budget.
“Ideally, we would have trained medical and forensic professionals who can start treatment with an exam on campus immediately following an assault,” said Danielson.
But, she said, the new law “is a very, very solid step in the right direction.”