Santa Clara County residents who have been sexually assaulted will be able to seek care closer to home starting in 2020 with the addition of a sexual assault forensic-exam (SAFE) team and rape crisis advocates at the new Stanford Hospital.
The county announced on Monday the new partnership, which coincides with a sharp increase in the number of reported sexual assaults in Santa Clara County: up 58% from 2015 to 2018, according to the county.
Currently, survivors of sexual violence typically must go to Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose for the forensic exams, often referred to as rape kits.
"For people who have already been traumatized, asking them to go to a remote location that is unfamiliar, away from friends, family, and home in their own community, I just think that further aggravates the trauma," Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President Joe Simitian said in the announcement. "I'm hopeful that having a SAFE site here in a more familiar environment, closer to home, can lessen some of that trauma."
The new location for the response team, expected to open in February, will be at the new hospital's emergency department and will run 24 hours a day with specially trained nurses on call to perform the exams. The exams are meant to happen soon after a sexual assault — within 72 hours — so DNA and other physical evidence can be collected and preserved. Victims do not have to report their assault to the police in order to undergo the exam. The services will be provided by Valley Medical Center, but housed at Stanford Hospital.
A year ago, Simitian wrote to Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne to voice concern about the limitations of a proposal to open a pilot clinic at the university's Vaden Health Center that would be open on weekends and only serve victims who were assaulted in locations that fell under the Stanford Department of Public Safety's jurisdiction. Stanford had approached the county in 2017 about the possibility of opening a center to provide sexual assault forensic exams in the area, according to a letter from Tessier-Lavigne at the time. The clinic was to be piloted at Vaden on the weekends and would not provide medical services to survivors.
The university said at the time that it planned to launch at the new hospital, once it opened, a more fully fledged center that would serve all people in northern Santa Clara County.
"This partnership with Santa Clara County has allowed Stanford Health Care the opportunity to provide a private and supportive setting in our new emergency department where the county's sexual-assault response team can deliver the highest level of compassionate care," Stanford Health Care President and CEO David Entwistle said on Monday. "We're proud to make this important service available to our surrounding community, which will help patients obtain this essential care more easily."
Monday's announcement noted that over the last year, the county has taken several steps to make sexual-assault exams more accessible, including by working to set up a sexual-assault forensic exam site to serve south county residents, which is opening soon; increasing the number of full-time staff for the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center SAFE program; increasing the number of on-call SAFE nurses staffing the program on nights and weekends; and offering more training for the specialized work of sexual assault medical forensic exams.
The county also recently authorized additional funds to support the YWCA and Community Solutions, the county's two rape-crisis centers, to provide more rape-crisis advocates to serve clients in the two new SAFE centers in north and south county areas.
Valley Medical Center, the local Police Chiefs' Association, the District Attorney's office and its crime laboratory, and the YWCA and Community Solutions recently signed new shared protocols "outlining procedures and cooperation aimed at responding to sexual assault in a coordinated manner that supports the survivor," according to the county announcement.
For immediate in-person crisis assistance and counseling services, victims of sexual violence can contact YWCA's 24-hour support line at 800-572-2782.