The Herald Bulletin

February 19, 2014

Bill helping sexual assault victims moves forward

By Zach Osowski
The Herald Bulletin

---- — INDIANAPOLIS — A bill authored by Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, passed out of the House Public Health committee Wednesday on a 9-0 vote.

Senate Bill 255, if passed, will allow physicians to conduct examinations for evidence in suspected sexual abuse cases without consent from the victim if the victim is unconscious or unable to give consent.

Under current law, medical examiners cannot conduct a test to collect evidence without the consent of the victim, which leads to some evidence disappearing.

Lanane said this issue was brought to him by Holly Renz, a registered nurse and program director of Community Hospital Anderson's sexual assault treatment center. He said this type of scenario is very rare but does happen.

"This is a way to address this unusual but important scenario," Lanane said. "It happens often enough and puts medical examiners in a difficult situation."

He said he hopes the new law makes deciding to conduct an exam easier if an examiner believes one is warranted and cannot get consent in an appropriate amount of time.

Renz said sometimes victims will come into a hospital badly beaten and unconscious, making it impossible to get consent.

"We'll sometime have a victim who is unconscious and can't give us consent," Renz said. "If they need to go into the OR (operating room) we need to collect possible evidence immediately."

Renz said she felt this law could lead to more convictions in sexual abuse cases because less evidence will be lost. If evidence is collected without consent, Renz said, it will be stored in the hospital until the victim is able to speak with an examiner. If the victim at that time decides not to press charges, the sample will be discarded.

Lanane said the bill sets up a process for the Indiana State Police superintendent to set up a standardized rape test so examiners across Indiana will be doing the same thing. The bill also protects examiners from lawsuits as long as they aren't negligent or unethical in their examination.

There were questions raised in committee about whether victims under the age of 16 should be included in this bill.

Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, is a co-sponsor of the bill and used to work as a nurse in a sexual assault division. She advocated for including children because the youngest victim she ever had was just 16 months old, nowhere near old enough to give consent.

Lawson said in order to make sure prosecutors got the evidence they needed, children had to be included. Lanane agreed and said originally language was in saying victims had to be at least 18, but several lawmakers, including Lawson, argued everyone should be protected.

Lanane said he feels good about the bill receiving support in the Indiana House. The bill passed out of the Senate by a 48-0 vote earlier this session.

Follow Zach Osowski on Twitter @Osowski_THB, or call 640-4847.

What's next: Sen. Lanane's Senate Bill 255 passed out of a House committee 9-0 Wednesday. It now moves to the full House for second reading before a vote.