SART Program Expands To Queens
Mayor Michael Bloomberg yesterday announced the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) program has been expanded to five city hospitals in the boroughs of Manhattan and Queens, making the program city-wide. SART was initially launched in The Bronx two years ago and a year after that expanded into Brooklyn. SARTs are composed of specially trained forensic examiners and rape crisis counselors who provide sexual assault victims with state-of-the-art forensic and counseling services within one hour of their arrival at a hospital. The SART program has now been fully implemented at Elmhurst Hospital Center and Queens Hospital Center in Queens and Metropolitan Hospital Center, Harlem Hospital Center and Bellevue Hospital Center in Manhattan. SART services are available 24-hours a day, seven days a week. Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown, Chief of the Manhattan District Attorney's Sex Crimes Unit Lisa Friel, Criminal Justice Coordinator John Feinblatt and HHC President Alan D. Aviles joined Bloomberg for the announcement at Elmhurst Hospital.
Before the SART program was implemented, every rape victim who sought treatment at a city hospital received a forensic examination designed to collect physical evidence for use in criminal investigations and prosecutions. However, not all victims were examined by dedicated, specially trained Sexual Assault Forensic Examiners (SAFEs), and many were not examined within one hour of their arrival. The longer the wait, the more difficult the experience for the victim, and the more likely that valuable physical evidence-and the victim's willingness to cooperate with law enforcement-will be lost. The SART program directly addressed these problems by creating a team of SAFEs dedicated specifically to providing high-quality forensic examinations and counseling services to every sexual assault victim within one hour of their arrival.
All SART members have received intensive training, approved by the State Department of Health, which includes properly identifying, collecting, and packaging forensic evidence, accurately documenting injuries, and attending to the emotional needs of rape victims. Coordinated by a project director, SART members are dispatched around the clock to conduct thorough physical examinations, collect potential DNA evidence, and document both internal and external injuries. Just as importantly, SAFEs are accompanied by volunteer rape crisis counselors who provide victims with emotional support and refer them to appropriate counseling and social services.
The Manhattan and Queens SARTs will be based upon the same model as their predecessors. The team will consist of 15 to 20 SAFE examiners, operating under the direction of a project coordinator. Team members will respond within one hour to every sexual assault victim who arrives at Metropolitan Hospital Center, Harlem Hospital Center and Bellevue Hospital Center in Manhattan and Elmhurst Hospital Center and Queens Hospital Center in Queens and will be accompanied by volunteer rape crisis counselors. As with the Bronx and Brooklyn SARTs, members of the Manhattan and Queens SARTs will also be available to testify as expert witnesses in criminal prosecutions involving their patients. In order to enhance the effectiveness of their testimony, team members will undergo an intensive training program designed and implemented by both the Manhattan and Queens District Attorneys' offices. Training will focus on clearly articulating the basics of the forensic examinations and the nature and significance of the physical evidence discovered.
The Bronx and Brooklyn programs have proven successful at minimizing trauma to the victim and reducing the risk that critical evidence will be lost, damaged or overlooked. Since it began operating in April 2004, the Bronx SART has produced
impressive results. Through the end of February, 413 sexual assault victims were treated at Bronx public hospitals by SART examiners. Of those victims, 95 percent were examined within one hour of their arrival, compared to only 63 percent in 2003, before the SART program began. In addition, 87 percent of victims were examined for evidence of microscopic genital injury using a device called a colposcope, compared to only 27 percent in 2003. Colposcope use has led to the documenting of genital injuries in 55 percent of the cases, compared to 28 percent in 2003. Non-genital injuries were also documented in 56 percent of the cases, compared to 45 percent in 2003. Finally, 37 percent of rape kits collected from SART hospitals yielded viable DNA profiles, compared to 33 percent at other Bronx hospitals over the same time period. Nearly 63 percent of the rape kits collected in SART hospitals were positive for DNA, compared to only 46 percent in non-SART hospitals.
"The SART program has proven to be a valuable and effective model for delivering services to sexual assault victims and bringing the criminals who perpetrate these terrible crimes to justice," Bloomberg said. "Today, rape victims who seek help at any city hospital-whether it's in The Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens or Manhattan-receive the best possible medical, counseling and forensic services, and they receive this attention and care within an hour."
"The expansion of the Sexual Assault Response Team initiative to Queens County will enhance immeasurably our ability to effectively investigate and successfully prosecute our sexual assault cases and bring the dangerous predators who commit these horrendous crimes to justice," Queens District Attorney Brown said. "The SART teams of specially trained health care professionals ensure compassionate quality health care for sexual assault victims and provide the forensic evidence needed for prosecution. I applaud the mayor for bringing the SART program to Queens County."