Vainieri Huttle & Spencer Bill to Protect Victims of Sexual Assault Now Law

Permits Nurses, Physician Assistants to Authorize Rape Kit Examinations for Minors

A bill Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle and L. Grace Spencer sponsored to protect minors when it appears that they have been sexually assaulted is now law.

"Time is of the essence when it comes to possible sexual assault cases, especially those concerning minors," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "This new law will relieve the backlog created by a loophole in previous law and place the power back in the hands of the victim to receive help for their abuse."

Under the statewide Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner ("SANE") program, specially trained nurse examiners collect forensic evidence from sexual assault victims for use in prosecutions. However, due to another state law that pre-dates the "SANE" law, a minor who is a sexual assault victim may not be allowed an immediate "SANE" examination upon arriving at a hospital emergency room if his or her parents or guardian cannot be reached and a physician is not immediately available to authorize the examination. 

A minor can give consent to "medical or surgical care or services" without parental consent if, in the judgement of a treating physician, the minor appears to have been sexually assaulted. The result is that a forensic examination may be delayed for hours as the victim, the sexual assault nurse examiner and the police officer wait for physician's authorization.  

The new law (A-4702) allows other health care professionals - including nurses, physician assistants and other health care professionals whose professional practice is regulated under current statutes - in addition to physicians, to authorize forensic sexual assault examinations and other medical care if a minor appears to have been sexually assaulted, regardless of whether the minor's parents or guardian have given consent.

"Whenever a case for sexual abuse concerning minors arises, medical professionals should be allowed to move quickly and help the victim with the victim's consent," said Spencer (D-Essex). "Waiting for third-party approval when a child's well-being is at risk is unacceptable. This law empowers capable minors to make the decision to seek help."

In addition, the law changes the wording of the statutory provision that allows a minor who appears to have been sexually assaulted to receive emergency care without parental consent. Previously, such a minor would be allowed to receive "necessary emergency medical or surgical care." Under the new law, the minor would be entitled to "any emergency medical or surgical care." 

The measure received unanimous approval from the legislature before being signed into law on Tuesday.