Supervisors look into expanding domestic violence examinations

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Los Angeles County supervisors authorized a study on Tuesday looking into how to expand domestic violence examination services to include victims of family violence. 

Kathryn Barger, who represents the county’s 5th District, which includes the Santa Clarita Valley, introduced the motion to the board with Sheila Kuehl, supervisor from the 3rd District. The motion was unanimously approved by the board. 

“In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, it’s critical that we provide improved services and justice for victims,” Barger said in a news release. “By increasing the availability of forensic exams for those experiencing domestic violence, we can address this growing threat to public safety.”

The board is scheduled revisit the motion in 120 days to review the findings of the studies to decide how to implement the expansion, according to the motion report. 

“Domestic violence is commonly thought to refer only to crimes involving women battered by males,” the motion report says. “However, the crimes relating to ‘family violence’ in California are broader and include, among others, child abuse, elder abuse, stalking and violation of domestic violence protective orders.” 

Forensic exams are available to sexual assault victims from domestic violence cases, but the same option is not available to family violence victims. According to the current law, penal code 13823.95, hospitals are only reimbursed for forensic medical-legal examinations of sexual assault victims — not for family violence victims. 

“Many family violence victims do not receive immediate forensic examinations to assess the extent of the abuse since forensic exam fees for family violence are not covered by law,” the report said. “These costs become barriers to service providers.” 

According to the report, because the examinations are not as readily available to victims of family violence as for victims of sexual assault, many victims are unable to collect the same level of evidnece they would need to prosecute their offender(s). 

Larry Schallert, assistant director of the student health center at College of the Canyons, looks at this expansion as being a step in the right direction for the community. 

“If the hospital can be reimbursed for examinations for more victims, that is going to be a positive for families and survivors of violence,” said Schallert. “Increasing resources and being more responsive in the community rather than outsourcing them would be great.” 

The study that was approved by the board will consider how to increase the availability of voluntary family violence exams, promising practices that have been implemented in other jurisdictions, and a feasibility study for providing family violence forensic exams countywide, according to the report. 

Until the board returns to the motion in about four months, the current law in place will be unchanged.

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