Achieving just outcomes: forensic evidence collection in emergency department sexual assault cases

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Abstract

Background

Achieving just outcomes in sexual assault cases is one of the most serious and complex problems facing the healthcare and justice systems. This study was designed to determine the prevalence and correlates of Sexual Assault Evidence Kit (SAEK) completion and release to police among sexual assault cases presenting to the ED.

Methods

Data for this retrospective study come from the Sexual Assault and Partner Abuse Care Programme (SAPACP) case registry (1 January to 31 December, 2015) at The Ottawa Hospital, a unique medical-forensic access point and the only facility offering SAEK collection in Ottawa. Bivariable and multivariable logistic regression models were conducted using ORs, adjusted ORs (AORs) and 95% CIs.

Results

In 2015, 406 patients were seen by the SAPACP and 202 (77.1%) were eligible for a SAEK. Among eligible cases, 129 (63.9%) completed a SAEK and 60 (29.7%) released the SAEK to police for investigation. Youth cases (≤24 years) had the highest odds of completing a SAEK (AOR 2.23, 95% CI 1.18 to 4.23). Cases who were uncertain of the assailant (AOR 3.62, 95% CI 1.23 to 10.67) and assaults that occurred outdoors (AOR 3.14, 95% CI 1.08 to 9.09) were most likely to release the SAEK to police.

Conclusion

Even with access to specialised forensic evidence collection, many sexual assault survivors do not complete a SAEK, and even fewer release the evidence to police for investigation. The ED is a common entry points into the healthcare system, and this study has highlighted the need to strengthen services and reduce attrition along the health-justice continuum.

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