A new Illinois law will require hospitals to ensure that sexual assault victims receive timely treatment from someone trained to examine them.
Right now in Illinois, fewer than 200 nurses have completed training in how to treat sexual assault victims, and only 20 are certified in pediatrics.
Stefanie Clarke is a sexual assault nurse examiner at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria. She said her training made her aware that the vast majority of child rape victims have no physical injuries.
“I can tell a parent, I can encourage them, [and say], ‘Just because I don’t see anything, doesn’t mean something didn’t happen to your child,’” she said. An untrained provider in the same situation might incorrectly conclude the child wasn’t raped.
Under legislation signed Friday by the governor, hospitals have until the start of 2022 to ensure victims of sexual assault have access to a nurse or doctor with specialized training within 90 minutes of their arrival.
Hospitals can transfer patients to a different facility if they do not have a sexual assault specialist available.
Republican state representative Mike Unes of East Peoria sponsored the legislation. He said victims can be further traumatized if a provider isn’t trained in how to conduct a sexual assault exam and collect evidence for a rape kit.
“This truly does give voice to the voiceless, especially when we’re talking about those in pediatrics who have gone through some senseless and unthinkable trauma,” he said.
Unes said this issue was brought to his attention several years ago by Dr. Channing Petrak of the Pediatric Resource Center in Peoria. He said the legislation also helps address the differences between sexual assault of a child and an adult, which are currently not made in Illinois' Sexual Assault Survivors Emergency Treatment Act.
For more on sexual assault nurse examiners, listen to a conversation from earlier this year on Illinois Public Media’s daily talk show, The 21st.