Qualitative Analysis of Prosecutors’ Perspectives on Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners and the Criminal Justice Response to Sexual Assault

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Abstract

Objective:

The aim of this study was to understand prosecutors’ perspectives on the contribution of Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs) to evidence collection and trials in sexual assault cases.

Background:

Several studies have suggested that a sexual assault case is more likely to progress in the criminal justice system when a SANE conducts the forensic medical examination. However, little is known about how prosecutors perceive SANEs and what they value about SANEs versus other medical professionals.

Method:

Semistructured interviews, conducted in one jurisdiction with eight assistant district attorneys who prosecute sexual assault cases, included questions about the value of SANEs in evidence collection and trials. Interview transcripts were analyzed to identify common themes and variability among prosecutors.

Results:

Most prosecutors identified advantages for SANEs in evidence collection, trial preparation, and testimony. Specific advantages cited by one or more prosecutors included superior documentation, thoroughness of the physical examination, better identification of injuries, quality of relationships with patients, professionalism, skill in trial preparation and testifying, and credibility with jurors.

Discussion:

These findings help validate SANEs’ contribution to the criminal justice response to sexual assault, despite the study’s limitations in sample size and inclusion of only one jurisdiction. The study also suggests the value of further education about SANEs for prosecutors who may not have the opportunity to learn about the range of skills SANEs possess.

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