Forensic medical training could help evidence collection in rural Alaska

Published: Nov. 18, 2019 at 7:18 PM AKST
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There aren’t enough people properly trained to collect medical evidence in many parts of Alaska, reducing the chance of conviction and traumatizing victims; a pilot program in Anchorage hopes to change that.

Angelia Trujillo, lead designer of the Alaska Comprehensive Forensic Training Academy, teaches forensic medical skills to nurses, doctors and one attorney acting as an advocate. Students are taught to photograph injuries and correctly collect evidence to be potentially used in a courtroom.

A few dozen people have completed the program since it was launched in a partnership with UAA in March. The majority of the students have come from rural Alaska, learning vital skills that can be brought back to their communities.

The implications of the training is widespread, from collecting evidence of sexual assault to elder abuse, strangulation and domestic violence. “We have a huge number of victims in our community who don’t get help in any other way,” Trujillo said.

The gold standard for evidence collection of sexual assaults is a Sexual Assault Response Team (SART), a team that includes a sexual assault advocate, a health professional and a law enforcement officer, working together at one time

Across Alaska there are 17 SARTs that all operate in larger hubs, but for smaller villages, there can be excruciating waits. Sexual assault victims aren’t allowed to shower or change their clothes until a test takes place, sometimes waiting for days at a time.

Jeff Matthews, a member of the UAA faculty who worked for six years as a forensic nurse in Bethel, says this training means that clothes could be collected as evidence and a victim could change.

“That’s how this will help these underserved communities,” he said.

For some students, the class is also about instilling confidence in how to correctly fill out a sexual assault kit. The training allows students to use practice kits and make mistakes.

“That’s the thing, they don’t want to do it wrong,” Trujillo said.

Trujillo’s goal now is to expand the program. “My ultimate goal to see this training for every nurse and [medical] provider in the state.”

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