Colo. Senate Advances Bill To Strengthen Colleges’ Rape Kit Rules

Elyse Diewald, who coordinates the sexual assault nurse examiners at BCH and helped set up the Foothills' program, discusses the new SANE program at Foothills Hospital in Boulder, Colo., with some of the nearly two dozen law enforcement officers, other nurses and social workers who attended an open house on Friday, March 13, 2015.

Joe Mahoney / Rocky Mountain PBS

Elyse Diewald, right, who coordinates the sexual assault nurse examiners at BCH and helped set up the Foothills' program, discusses the new SANE program at Foothills Hospital in Boulder, Colo., with some of the nearly two dozen law enforcement officers, other nurses and social workers who attended an open house on Friday, March 13, 2015.

The Colorado Senate gave its initial approval Monday to a bill that would require colleges to designate a nearby medical facility where their students can receive Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) exams – known as rape kits.

The bill, which passed the House last month, still requires a final vote by the Senate.

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 proposal 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.

“Finally, it seemed like there was outcry in the public to stand up for rape survivors,” said Rep. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, who co-sponsored the bill.

Liz Hardin, center, an emergency department nurse, and Joanne Knuppe, right, an obstetrics nurse, watch forensic nurse Kim Nash, left, trims Emma Agnew's fingernails as Nash leads a training session for Sex Assault Forensic Exams on Oct. 2, 2014 at Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs, Colo. For the training, Agnew portrayed a woman who'd be an assaulted.

Joe Mahoney / Rocky Mountain PBS I-News

Liz Hardin, center, an emergency department nurse, and Joanne Knuppe, right, an obstetrics nurse, watch forensic nurse Kim Nash, left, trims Emma Agnew's fingernails as Nash leads a training session for Sex Assault Forensic Exams on Oct. 2, 2014 at Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs, Colo. For the training, Agnew portrayed a woman who'd be an assaulted.

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.

The bill would also mandate 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 wouldn’t require colleges to offer forensic exams on campus, or to provide transportation to medical facilities that offer the exams.

Danielson 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. “This is a very, very solid step in the right direction.”

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