New equipment benefits sexual assault victims
Evidence gathered in medical examinations of rape victims is more likely to hold up in court because of new equipment being used at UMC and other Tucson hospitals.
Two colposcopes, dryer boxes, microscopes and wood lamps are being used by sexual assault examiners to find more detailed evidence.
"We're able to take more in the courtroom if we're allowed," said Ronald Salik, medical director of the Tucson Rape Crisis Center and a University of Arizona assistant professor of surgery. "It may make someone guilty or exonerate them."
Officials from the rape crisis center and University Medical Center are using the new equipment to gather evidence that can be used in court.
This equipment can make the crime evidence more complete, said Bridget Riceci, executive director of the Tucson Rape Crisis Center.
"There can't be any question about the violation of the evidence," Riceci said.
The $30,000 worth equipment, which became available on Oct. 1, was funded by the Victims Crime Act through the Arizona Department of Safety. The Tucson Heart Hospital is also using the new equipment.
Before October, the sexual assault examiner had to mark the victim's trauma on a pre-drawn diagram. The results were often challenged in court because they were based on human observation, Salik said.
Salik said the new colposcopes provide more concrete evidence because they magnify the image of the wound 10 times by taking photos or videotaping the evidence. The magnification makes the trauma more definite, he said.
"You can blow it up and convince yourself if it's there or not," Salik said.
He said the examiner looks for specific trauma patterns to determine if non-consentual sex was involved in the reported incident.
Another piece of new technology introduced at UMC will strengthen the use of sexual assault evidence in the courtroom by ensuring it has not been tampered with.
Dryer boxes are similar to a photography film dryer because they accelerate the time necessary for evidence to dry, Salik said.
"Before, we had to dry it naturally," he said. "Now the specimen can be put in the containers quickly."
Salik said even though evidence will not be sent to the crime lab any faster, it will be more believable because the accelerated drying time reduces the chance for the evidence becoming tainted.
"The significance of the dryer box is to dry the evidence while maintaining it's credibility," she said.
The new microscopes are used to detect motile or movable sperm.
"It gave us a time as to when it occurred," Salik said.
New wood lamps can also be used to more thoroughly examine possible rape victims.
Similar to a black light, the wood lamps are used to find semen.
During the 1998 fiscal year, 226 sexual assault exams were performed in Tucson. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, there were 491 reported sexual assaults in Tucson during the same time period.
The number of actual assaults could have reached 5,000 because only 10 percent of all cases are reported, Riceci said.
The Tucson Rape Crisis Center is a non-profit organization that collaborates with hospitals, law enforcement and prosecution in sexual assault crimes.