The U.S. Department of Justice has issued its first-ever medical guidelines for treating sexual assault victims - without any mention of emergency contraception, the standard precaution against pregnancy after rape.
The omission of the so-called morning-after pill has frustrated and angered victims' advocates and medical professionals who have long worked to improve victims' care.Gail Burns-Smith, one of many experts who vetted the protocol during its three-year development by Justice's Office on Violence Against Women, said emergency contraception was included in an early draft, and she does not know of anyone who opposed it.
"But in the climate in which we are currently operating, politically it's a hot potato," said Burns-Smith, retired director of Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services.
For two weeks, Justice officials were unavailable to talk about the new 141-page protocol, published in September. But in an e-mail, department spokesman Eric Holland reiterrated points made in the document.
"The goals of the protocol are to ensure that all victims, regardless of differences in background or location of service, receive the same high quality medical and forensic exam, while being treated with respect and compassion, and to improve prosecution of sexual assault cases through the appropriate collection of evidence," he wrote. "The protocol is not intended to supercede the many state, local, and tribal protocols that are currently in practice."
Lynn Schollet, a lawyer with the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said without emergency contraception, the trauma of rape could be compounded by pregnancy.
The Pennsylvania chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is now collecting signatures on a petition urging the Justice Department to fix the "glaring omission in an otherwise thorough document."
In the half-page on pregnancy "risk evaluation and care," the protocol says to take victims' pregnancy fears "seriously," give a pregnancy test, and "discuss treatment options, including reproductive health services."