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Original Research

'We desperately need some help here' - The experience of legal experts with sexual assault and evidence collection in rural communities

Submitted: 9 May 2013
Revised: 3 December 2013
Accepted: 17 December 2013
Published: 28 October 2014

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Author(s) : Annan SL.

Sandra Annan

Citation: Annan SL.  'We desperately need some help here' - The experience of legal experts with sexual assault and evidence collection in rural communities. Rural and Remote Health (Internet) 2014; 14: 2659. Available: (Accessed 24 October 2017)


Introduction:  Approximately 30% of people in rural communities report a sexual assault within their lifetime. The medico-legal response to a report of sexual assault may leave a significant impact on the victim. The purpose of this article is to examine the experiences of legal providers from rural communities, who assist victims of sexual assault.
Methods:  A sample of expert participants were interviewed and included seven commonwealth attorneys (the state prosecuting attorneys in Virginia), six sheriffs or police investigators, and five victim-witness advocates, all from rural areas of Virginia. Qualitative data were collected by in-person interviews with a hermeneutic-phenomenological format.
Results:  The experts interviewed described prosecution difficulties related to evidence collection and unrealistic jury expectations. These legal experts also shared frustrations with limitations in local services and limitations in the experiences of local sexual assault nurse examiners.
Conclusions:  This study provides a context for understanding the rural medico-legal response to sexual assault and for the importance of the role of the sexual assault nurse examiner to rural populations. Interdisciplinary collaboration is key to improving prosecution outcomes as well as victim support after reporting.

Key words: forensic medicine, health services, medicolegal, qualitative research, rural communities, sex offences, women’s health.

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