The Ministry of Health has yielded to pressure from the Knesset committee for the Status of Women and Gender Equality by ordering hospitals to stop destroying evidence of rape. Chairman MK Aida Touma-Sliman (Hadash – Joint List) declared, “It shows that it is possible to bring about change. In times like these, such things cannot be taken for granted.”
The committee continued on Monday, May 7, to discuss the need to collect and preserve forensic evidence from victims of sexual assault, an issue it began deliberating on in January 2017. At present, hospitals often destroy samples taken from rape victims within three months, whether or not a complaint has been filed with the police.
Forensic evidence, including skin cells, hair, blood, semen and other materials, is used to investigate sex crimes. At present, if the victim submits a complaint immediately to the police, the samples are transferred to the police and stored in forensic laboratories. Ministry of Health regulations only require that samples be kept for three months, even though such evidence can be used in future complaints, subject to the consent of the injured party.
But the committee found, after a request made to Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman that, in practice, the collection, preservation and destruction of samples are carried out differently and inconsistently in various hospitals, and that the ministry does not properly monitor or supervise the matter.
A rape victim who said she was surreptitiously given a “rape drug” to confuse her before she was assaulted told the committee: “I did everything right. I got to the hospital after I was drugged and lost consciousness. Those who accompanied me to the hospital insisted that the staff perform all the tests to prove that I was drugged, and they did. Three weeks later, I discovered that my samples had never reached the lab, and the police made it clear to me that I needed these tests to proceed with the procedure. When I asked the hospital to send the test results to another hospital, I was told they did not know where they were.”
Touma-Sliman said, “If the Knesset determines that the statute of limitations on sexual offenses is seven years, then the evidence must be kept for at least seven years and the victim’s right to complain should be preserved.”
Ministry representative Dr. Zohar Sahar Lavi commented, “We are now at the conclusion of formulating new guidelines on the subject. There are still open questions regarding the manner in which the evidence is kept. However, following the committee’s previous discussion, the hospitals have been instructed not to dump the evidence.”