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EVAWI > Resources > Forensic Compliance > FAQs > Law Enforcement
Forensic Compliance Frequently Asked Questions

Note: The information on this website is designed to: (a) communicate the requirements of the Violence Against Women Act (as reauthorized in 2005 and 2013), and (b) offer recommended practices for implementation. The goal is to highlight examples of communities striving to achieve a higher standard of the “spirit of the law,” rather than simply meeting the “letter of the law” for VAWA forensic compliance.  It is critically important that readers consult state laws and regulations, as well as local policies and protocols, because they may have additional requirements beyond those included in VAWA 2005 and VAWA 2013. For more information specific to your state or territory, contact the STOP Grant Administrator or coalition of advocacy organizations providing services for sexual assault victims.  A listing is available from the website for the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice.

Q Is law enforcement required to “authorize” the sexual assault examination?
Q Are victims required to speak with law enforcement?
Q Is this true even with medical mandated reporting?
Q Are law enforcement officers required to stay at the facility until the end of a medical forensic examination?
Q What is the purpose of the officer’s signature on the forensic examiner’s form?
A Is law enforcement required to “authorize” the sexual assault examination?

Many professionals continue to refer to “law enforcement authorization” when talking about a medical forensic examination with a sexual assault victim. However, this changed in the wake of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) forensic compliance provisions, which require that all victims of sexual assault are provided a medical forensic exam free of charge and regardless of their participation in the criminal justice process. With this legislation in place, the terminology of “authorization” is simply no longer appropriate. The reality is that law enforcement agencies are not in the business of “authorizing” exams anymore – even in states like California where law enforcement pays for forensic examinations. Sexual assault victims can – and do – consent to the examination without law enforcement being involved at the time of the examination.
A Are victims required to speak with law enforcement?

No. VAWA specifies that victims of sexual assault must be provided access to a medical forensic exam regardless of whether they decide to cooperate with law enforcement or participate in the criminal justice system. Therefore, while a state statute or administrative rule may require law enforcement authorization for the initiation or payment of a medical forensic exam, it cannot require the victim to personally talk with a law enforcement officer; this would not be considered compliant with VAWA. In fact, requiring the victim to talk with law enforcement in this situation would even violate the law, because victims cannot be detained against their will unless there is probable cause that they have committed a criminal offense.
A Is this true even with medical mandated reporting?

Yes. When a health care professional is mandated by law to report a suspected sexual assault or injury to law enforcement, it must be clear that victims do not have the option of deciding whether this report will be made. Victims do decide, however, whether they want to provide any information to law enforcement in connection with the report. In other words, just because a mandated report is filed, this does not mean the victim is required to personally talk with an officer. This would be inconsistent with VAWA forensic compliance provisions.

The Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) has determined that states with medical mandated reporting can be compliant with VAWA forensic compliance provisions, as long as victims are not required to participate in the criminal justice process. While the definition of “participation” is not explicitly defined, common sense suggests it means that victims cannot be required to personally talk with an officer – even when a mandated report has been filed with law enforcement.
A Are law enforcement officers required to stay at the facility until the end of a medical forensic examination?

The short answer to this question is no. Law enforcement officers should not be required to wait for health care providers to complete the entire examination process. They certainly should not be required to wait and sign a form that is sealed inside the kit. Health care providers have a number of tasks to complete even after the victim leaves the exam facility, including the documentation and packaging of evidence, which do not require law enforcement presence for completion. These tasks require attention to detail, and this could be compromised if forensic examiners feel they have to rush so a waiting officer can sign a form to be sealed inside the kit. Some communities have established protocols that allow examiners to complete the required paperwork and notify the law enforcement agency that it is ready for pick-up, or they may fax the form to law enforcement via a secured fax line or submit it via secure electronic submission.
A What is the purpose of the officer’s signature on the forensic examiner’s form?

When a law enforcement officer signs the forensic examiner’s form, the purpose is not to document verification of the contents of the kit. That is the role of the health care provider conducting the exam. The signature is also not required to document chain of custody – that can and should be handled using a different procedure, not involving the forensic examiner’s form. However, even if the forensic examiner’s form is being used for this purpose of documenting chain of custody, it can simply be attached to the outside of the kit or submitted via a secure fax or electronic transmission.
This project is supported by Grant No. 2013-TA-AX-K045 awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed on this website are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women.
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