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State law change expedites process for sexual assault exam kits
Gainesville Police collect evidence gathered at Medical Center
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After a change in Georgia law, Gainesville police have taken possession of more sexual assault examination kits performed at Northeast Georgia Medical Center, even those involving cases almost an hour outside of the city’s jurisdiction.

“With the changes regarding the sexual assault kits, it really has expedited things,” Sgt. Kevin Holbrook said.

After Senate Bill 304 became effective July 1, law enforcement was required to take possession of sexual assault examination kits “no later than 96 hours of being notified.”

With the Medical Center drawing patients from across the region, local law enforcement has taken possession of the evidence from the hospital regardless of the assault’s origin.

“Many times they are taken at the hospital for individuals outside our jurisdiction,” Holbrook said.

One case Nov. 18 involved a person examined at Northeast Georgia Medical Center for a possible rape. The incident possibly occurred in Toccoa, according to Gainesville Police.

Holbrook said the department now will take possession of the kit, make a report and notify the potential investigating agency of the case.

The evidence will then make its way to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, regardless of whether the victim wants to continue seeking charges.

“Once it’s processed, it may or may not assist in another case down the road,” Holbrook said.

Michelle Taylor, sexual assault nurse examination program coordinator at the Medical Center, said the hospital and local law enforcement have had timely exchanges of the kits before the law came into effect.

“Still, the legislation is a good reminder of how important it is for the process to work quickly and efficiently, and we’ve been told it’s caused tremendous improvement in other communities across the state,” Taylor wrote in an email.

In August 2015, Gainesville Police and the Hall County Sheriff’s Office had 160 kits that were sent to the GBI after a departmental policy change.

The GBI Crime Lab said in a bulletin it would accept and perform DNA analysis on sexual assault kits “regardless of whether or not a suspect has been identified in the investigation.”

According to the new law, law enforcement must submit evidence to the GBI within 30 days of it being collected.

“Beginning (Dec. 1), the (GBI) shall issue an annual report detailing the number of cases for which it has tested evidence pursuant to this Code section and the number of cases that are awaiting testing,” according to the law.

Rape Response Executive Director Jeanne Buffington praised the work being done by local law enforcement. While many outside agencies in her experience have come to pick up the sexual assault kits, Buffington said some agencies have a long way to go to process them.

“Law enforcement in our community just stepped up to the plate and do what they need to do to work on behalf of victims of sexual assault. They’ve done a great job with that,” Buffington said.

Buffington’s agency has also provided assistance to victims coming to the hospital from far outside its usual service area.

“Wherever the assault occurred, if there’s no one else to accompany her or him at the hospital for that medical exam, we will go,” Buffington said. “Because that’s just not something someone needs to be alone for.”

Holbrook said the change will not affect the department’s resources.

“We typically have officers at the hospital that are working in an off-duty capacity, so they are able a lot of times take those types of reports and collect that evidence for us,” Holbrook said.