- The Washington Times - Monday, December 20, 2004

ELKTON, Md. (AP) — Cecil County has become the first jurisdiction in the state — and one of only a few in the country — to allow rape victims to provide police with physical evidence and details about the offense without filing a formal report that would trigger prosecution.

“Jane Doe,” or anonymous, reporting is offered as a last resort to rape victims who otherwise might not report the crime, said Alex Wells, a forensic nurse and coordinator of the Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner program at Union Hospital, where the service is being offered.

Miss Wells said she felt it was important to give another option to victims who were reluctant to cooperate with police. Police cannot analyze the evidence unless the victim authorizes an investigation. After three months, the evidence is destroyed.

“We’re not going to offer them the Jane Doe program unless they’re pretty much walking out the door,” Miss Wells told the Baltimore Sun. “Either we get something or we don’t get anything.”

Similar programs exist in Chapel Hill, N.C.; Bryan, Texas; Douglas County, Kan.; and Santa Barbara, Calif. But unlike in Cecil County, the police in those areas are allowed access to some of the crime information to track statistics and patterns of sexual assault.

Some groups against sexual assault would like to see similar programs implemented nationwide. But some criminologists fear that delayed reporting, or no reporting, will lead to more rapes.

“That three-month delay just poisons the way we fight sexual assault crimes,” said Lawrence Kobilinsky, an associate provost at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

“It’s just really for the victim to have the time to really think about it,” Miss Wells said. “Then we can refer them to the rape counseling center so they can get the counseling they need. [Counselors] found that some of the victims [who] didn’t report it wish they had.”

The hospital in 2002 brought the idea to the county Sexual Assault Response Team, which includes the State’s Attorney’s Office, state police, the county sheriff’s department and other local law-enforcement agencies. After further research, the groups agreed to the program, and the hospital implemented it Oct. 12.

Sarah Graham Miller, a spokeswoman for the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, said the organization encourages such an option because fewer than 40 percent of rape and sexual assault victims reported the attacks to law enforcement in 2003, according to Justice Department statistics.

“We can’t prosecute offenders or even investigate offenders unless victims are willing to come forward,” she said. “Options like this are certainly encouraging.”

Jennifer Pollitt Hill, executive director of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said she wants to see the program replicated throughout the state.

Forensic nurses — who are trained to compile evidence that can be used in a criminal case — cannot collect evidence for a rape kit unless police authorize it. That won’t happen if the victim does not cooperate, Miss Hill said.

The hospital received its first Jane Doe case Oct. 27, a 17-year-old who was brought to the hospital by police and was afraid of the repercussions if she reported the crime, Miss Wells said.

Maryland State Police spokesman Sgt. Thornnie Rouse said that not being able to investigate rape evidence without a victim’s consent is frustrating.

“But at the same time, that’s the decision of the victim, and we certainly can’t be mad at them, given what they are going through.”

Sgt. Rouse said that having evidence in the hope that a victim may report the crime is better than nothing.

“It’s better than someone sitting in the corner crying to themselves and not letting anyone know what’s going on and being reluctant to deal with law enforcement,” Sgt. Rouse said.

State police said 16 rapes were reported in the county last year.

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