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Kentucky lawmaker advocating for more funding to help sexual assault survivors

Minority Floor Leader Rep. Joni Jenkins said she's also advocating for more funding for domestic violence, rape crisis and child advocacy centers.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville resident Olivia Landis said she didn't know what to do after she was sexually assaulted by someone she knew.

She went to a local hospital to get a forensic exam using a sexual assault kit, but she was kept waiting for several hours. By the time she was seen, the exam was no longer an option since it must be done within 96 hours of the assault.

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

Since they were unable to collect evidence, Olivia said it meant she was unable to successfully press charges against her attacker.

PART 1: Sexual assault survivor says Louisville hospital 'failed' her, cost her justice

Was Olivia's experience an isolated incident? To find out, the WHAS11 FOCUS Team worked alongside Laela Kashan with the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs and Deb Campbell with the Kentucky Hospital Association to create a survey that was distributed to hundreds of their members. 

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

About 21 percent of respondents said, since the start of the pandemic, they’ve witnessed sexual assault survivors being turned away after requesting a forensic exam. Nearly 3 in 10 said they’ve seen increased wait times for sexual assault survivors to receive these exams.

“Hospitals have a legal obligation to conduct forensic exams for survivors who come to the emergency department and request one," said Kashan, an attorney with the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs.

Campbell said the sexual assault kit is the most important piece of forensic evidence if someone wants to press charges. She said she's advocating for nearly $5 million from the state government to make sure hospitals are equipped with nurses specifically trained to deal with sexual assault. 

“We just don't have enough nurses, period," said Campbell.

Minority Floor Leader Rep. Joni Jenkins (D) said she's also advocating for more funding for domestic violence, rape crisis and child advocacy centers. She said her goal is prevention.

“So that we can focus not just on those immediate crisis programs, which are really important, but to do some more preventive educational pieces,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins said she does believe that sexual assault survivors have the resources they need, but she wants to make sure that anyone who needs help will know where to find it.

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.

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