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September 6, 2002

Sexual assault cases are tough to prove. Often there's not a lot of evidence. A program that started in Dougherty County is now changing that fact across the state.

Nurses are trading in syringes for crime scene tape. Conni Knowles is the Dougherty County Director of the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program-also called SANE.

“I'm a crime scene tech, but our crime scene is the victim. We use a sexual assault kit. Q-tips, swabs to collect samples.”

A victim is privately examined from head to toe, evidence is sent to a crime lab, and later used in court. “We have to do it. The victim retains quit a bit of evidence. It's very sensitive evidence and it has to be collected in a controlled say. And if it's lost it's gone forever.”

The jury is able to see the actual injury. “Basically it's a microscope on a stick with a camera attached to it. Nothing touches the victim. It magnifies the injuries so we can get still photography for them.”

SANE is four years old in Dougherty County. “The program is giving us better evidence than we ever had before, which is leading to these convictions,” said Dougherty D. A. Ken Hodges.

Before SANE, the sexual assault conviction rate was less than 50 percent. “Since we started this project, our conviction rate has gone to nearly 100 percent. We've only lost one case,” said Hodges.

SANE nurses don't have GBI badges, but they do have big hearts. It takes forensic training, hours of studying and wake-up calls during the night. “When we go to court and get a successful conviction, we know that guy is off the street," Knowles said. "That's the best thing in the world. We know our family is safe, as well as the victim who was perpetrated.”

Dougherty County has only two SANE nurses, and desperately needs more to help put sex offenders behind bars. SANE nurses are paid by the count, but work under the District Attorney's office. There are SANE offices at both Albany hospitals.

Victims travel from all over Southwest Georgia to be examined in Albany, but their cases are tried in the county they were assaulted.

posted at 12:30 PM by kathryn.simmons@walb.com

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