France is looking to revamp how it handles sexual assault cases, and is taking cues from a program that started in the Bronx nearly a decade ago. NY1's Erin Billups filed the following report.
Since the 2011 sexual assault scandal surrounding former International Monetary Fund Chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn sexism and sexual violence has been a hot button issue in France. Now, French Women's Rights Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem says she's working to change the culture.
"You have every day in France 250 rapes everyday. That's a lot," says Vallaud-Belkacem.
The city's Sexual Assault Response Team program or SART, pioneered by North Central Bronx Hospital, caught her eye and she came in person to check it out and toured the facility.
"This program is exactly what I want," says Vallaud-Belkacem.
Once it's discovered a patient was a victim of sexual violence within the last 96 hours an on-call sexual assault forensic examiner and rape crisis advocate are called to the hospital, within the hour. Patients are given a medical examination and evidence is collected.
"If the victim would like to have the kit released she can release it and file a report," explains SART Medical Director Dr. Brigitte Alexander.
The trained patient advocate walks the victim through the process of filing charges or simply keeps her or him company.
"I remind them that they are human, that they're not to blame, that they deserve medical treatment, that they deserve attention from the police," says Chiseche Mibenge, a SART rape crisis advocate.
The program's success is also due to policy changes like a standard procedure for processing rape kits, sensitivity training for police officers and enhanced ambulance protocol.
"Now you have somebody who calls 911, they don't just go to whichever hospital is closest they'll go to a specialized hospital like a SART hospital," says Dr. Alexander.
Vallaud-Bellkacem took special interest in SART's handling of victims in the long term.
"We provide follow up. We don't want them to get lost," says NCBH SART Program Coordinator Elaine Garbity.
"There are psychological consequences, big trauma that last all their life," says Vallaud-Belkacem.
It's not only France that has shown interest in this sexual assault program. Teams from Jordan and Japan have also come to learn and adopt the methods created in the Bronx.
"Sexual violence is an international crime, it happens everywhere," says Garbity.
"Hopefully they'll take something back and replicate it," adds Dr. Alexander.
All 11 city-run hospitals have the SART program. There are similar state recognized programs throughout New York.
For more information, visit http://hospitals.nyhealth.gov/browse_search.php?form=CENTER&rt=6 and http://www.nyc.gov/html/hhc/html/services/sart.shtml.