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Sexual assault survivor says Louisville hospital 'failed' her, cost her justice

A WHAS11 survey of Kentucky healthcare workers found one sexual assault survivor's struggle to get a forensic exam was not an isolated incident.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Olivia Landis is a survivor of sexual assault. 

She said a local hospital failed her when they didn't give her timely access to a forensic exam. 

"The system is awful," Landis said about the healthcare system. “It just, like, made me angry."

The catalyst was in May 2020, around the start of the pandemic, when Landis said she was raped by someone she knew.

A total of 8 out of 10 rapes are committed by someone known to the victim, according to The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), a national nonprofit. 

“I didn't know what to do," she said. “There's no handbook." 

But Landis did know to get help. She said she eventually went to the emergency department at Baptist Health in Louisville. 

Landis said she planned to press charges against the person who assaulted her. But to do so, she needed what many consider potentially the most critical piece of forensic evidence: the sexual assault kit, also known as a rape kit.  

Kentucky law requires hospitals with emergency services to administer the kit to anyone who requests it. 

RELATED: More sexual assault survivors to get closure with Kentucky investigation initiative

“I was sitting back there for an hour," Landis said. 

She said that hour turned into seven hours, waiting in the ER. Landis said no one came to give her the exam she wanted, even though she arrived within the window of when it was possible.  

“There's like a 96-hour time frame in which the kit can be performed," she said. 

And after losing her sense of security, she said her wait in the ER made her lose something else: Her ability to hold her attacker accountable. 

“They said, no, too much time has passed," she said. "I was furious."

And without that piece of forensic evidence, Landis said she couldn’t successfully press charges.

Baptist Health turned down our request for an on-camera interview, citing patient privacy concerns. They did send a statement that reads in part: 

“When a person who’s been sexually assaulted arrives at our Emergency Department, the triage nurse immediately places them in a private room. An examination is performed by a sexual assault nurse examiner.” 

“I was waiting for six to seven hours," Landis said. "Just for, like, people to come and talk to me." She said, as a result, she lost her justice.

Survey: Landis' experience isn't isolated.

Industry sources say when Olivia went to the emergency department, at the start of the pandemic, hospitals were facing some of their biggest challenges: strict quarantine policies, a rapidly spreading virus and uncertainty. 

Hospitals were forced to prioritize patients whose lives were on the line. 

FOCUS investigative reporter Paula Vasan conducted a survey with healthcare workers across Kentucky to see if Landis' struggle to get a forensic exam was an isolated incident.

The results showed that Landis is likely not alone.

Vasan collected anonymous responses from 64 sexual assault nurse examiners, emergency care providers, and other healthcare workers who have met people like Landis during the pandemic. 

About 21% of respondents said that since the start of the pandemic, they have witnessed sexual assault survivors being turned away after requesting a forensic exam.

Nearly 3 in 10 said they have seen increased wait times for sexual assault survivors to receive these exams. 

“It doesn't surprise me, unfortunately," said Deb Campbell, vice president of quality and health professions at the Kentucky Hospital Association.

Campbell said the results of the survey reflect a problem across the Commonwealth. “We just don't have enough nurses, period," she said. 

RELATED: Senate Bill aimed at combating Kentucky's nursing shortage advances

As nurses leave the profession in record numbers largely due to the pandemic, Campbell said she anticipates that shortage will swell.

Kentucky is projected to need 16,000 additional nurses by 2024, according to the Kentucky Nurses Association.

Both the Kentucky Nurses Association and the Kentucky Hospital Association say addressing the nursing shortage is a top priority.

Factor in overcrowded hospitals due to COVID-19, Campbell said sexual assault survivors like Landis have become among the many victims of a strained system. 

If you’re a survivor of sexual assault and need help, you can find the results of our survey, along with local and national resources below. Our survey analysis included some responses we are excluding from the slideshow below to protect the respondents' privacy. 

SURVEY METHODOLOGY AND RESULTS:

The anonymous survey consisted of eight questions to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on access to sexual assault kits for sexual assault survivors. WHAS11 worked with both the Kentucky Hospital Association and the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs to send the survey to their hundreds of members, which included sexual assault nurse examiners, rape crisis center advocates, emergency care providers, and others who work with sexual assault survivors. A total of 64 people responded to our survey in January and February.  

Resources for survivors 

If you need to talk to someone, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673). Or visit RAINN's website for free, confidential support available 24/7 in English and Spanish.

For a full list of resources available in Kentucky and Indiana, click here.

Contact reporter Paula Vasan at pvasan@whas11.com. Follow her on Twitter (@PaulaVasan) and Facebook.

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