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Sexual assault kits

Jeff Carl, director of the emergency department, holds a sexual assault kit Jan. 26, 2018, at St. Luke's Magic Valley Medical Center in Twin Falls. Each kit is sealed to prevent tampering.

TWIN FALLS — While state lawmakers worked again this year to improve the evidence collection process for sexual assault victims across Idaho, other on-the-ground efforts with a similar goal were taking place locally in the Magic Valley.

It’s been almost one year since a Sexual Assault Response Team came together in south-central Idaho, the first team of its kind outside of Boise in the state. The team, made up of about 25 St. Luke’s nurses, members of law enforcement, prosecutors, community advocates and others, officially formed in June and is based in Twin Falls. Meanwhile, 60 nurses from the region and across Idaho underwent state-sponsored Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner training for the first time this winter.

If the Magic Valley Sexual Assault Response Team is successful in its attempt to streamline the sexual assault kit collection process across the system, it could serve as a model for future teams in other regions of the state. And while the team doesn’t yet have the metrics to measure its success through staff feedback, by all accounts things are going well, according to Katherine Kerner, women’s administration program manager at St. Luke’s in Boise, who led the effort to organize the Magic Valley team.

“The Sexual Assault Response Team is engaged and present and active, which I think speaks volumes for the community,” Kerner said.

Initially, Kerner said she had considered opening a physical center in Twin Falls for sexual assault survivors to visit, which would serve as a one-stop-shop of sorts. A similar model is currently used by Faces of Hope Victim Center in Boise. But the demand in Twin Falls simply wasn’t high enough to warrant a physical center — so instead, a team was assembled that would meet regularly. Meetings include educational sessions, in which certain team members, such as nurses or prosecutors, take turns explaining their roles to other members of the team.

Meanwhile, Idaho State Police last year received two grants from the Department of Justice to improve sexual assault kit collection, including a grant for $250,000 to hire a sexual assault nurse examiner to help coordinate Sexual Assault Response Team and to go toward training and supplies for hospitals around the state. The first round of state-funded Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner training took place this winter, with about 60 nurses from around the state participating, Kerner said.

While local efforts grow in the Magic Valley and spread around the state, the Legislature also took steps this legislative session to improve sexual assault kit collection in Idaho. One new law will require that virtually all kits be processed, with the exception of cases where there is evidence that the assault claim was unfounded. That law from Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, was crafted with the help of Twin Falls Police Chief Craig Kingsbury.

Supporters of the law, including Kingsbury, say making sure all kits are tested up front could help identify serial offenders and provide a safety net for victims who choose not to pursue charges at first but may change their minds down the road.

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