As of last week, all emergency child sexual assault examinations are being conducted at the Shelby County Rape Crisis Center; Le Bonheur Children's Hospital will no longer conduct the exams.
"We will still conduct the basic medical screening exam but not the forensic exam, which is for the purpose of gathering evidence for a criminal proceeding," said Susan Steppe, program director for community health and well-being at Le Bonheur.
Le Bonheur took over forensic sexual assault exams for Shelby County children in 2009, when the troubled Memphis Sexual Assault Resource Center came under scrutiny for financial mismanagement and failing to keep trained nurses on staff around the clock. That year, two teenage girls were turned away from the center and denied a timely examination and collection of evidence crucial to all sexual assault cases.
The Memphis Sexual Assault Resource Center has since transitioned to Shelby County, come under new management, and, according to Dottie Jones, director of the Shelby County Division of Community Services, has resolved staffing issues.
"We revamped everything," Jones said. "Currently, the Rape Crisis Center employs 10 licensed and certified nurse practitioners. Seven are trained to perform child exams."
The Shelby County Rape Crisis Center handles all adult sexual assault examinations for the county as well as child sexual assault exams for children living in the metro area outside of Shelby County (particularly children from Mississippi and Arkansas). Until last Saturday, LeBonheur handled the child sexual assault exams for Shelby County children.
With both the Rape Crisis Center and Le Bonheur conducting child assault examinations, Steppe and others saw a duplication of service.
"We've developed two different processes and two different organizations to do very similar work," Steppe said. "The streamlining is sort of an economy of scale, so we can focus our efforts and resources on one program."
The Rape Crisis Center is located next to the Family Safety Center, where law enforcement agents and representatives from the Child Advocacy Center will be more easily accessible.
"The central place of coordination is important for law enforcement, for the district attorney general, and the people routinely working with those issues," Steppe said.
Jones said the Rape Crisis Center will also provide a more soothing experience for children suspected of being sexually assaulted.
"Philosophically, I've always thought that the exams didn't belong in an emergency room," she said. "It's traumatic enough to put a child through a forensic exam and all that goes with that, and then having it in a hospital is all the more traumatic."
During its stint providing emergency child sexual assault services, Le Bonheur officials had hoped to do the majority of the forensic exams at a clinic at the Memphis Child Advocacy Center. In reality, most patients were examined at the Le Bonheur emergency department.
"It led us to think maybe we need a better way to coordinate with our community partners and provide this service for children," Steppe said.