ACLU Study Shows Most Emergency Care Facilities in Florida Fail to Ensure Victims of Sexual Assault Receive Emergency Contraception

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
June 20, 2005 12:00 am

ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of Florida
Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States


MIAMI – Most Florida hospitals and sexual assault treatment centers do not routinely offer sexual assault patients emergency contraception on-site, a treatment that could prevent a pregnancy, according to a study released today by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.

“”The last thing victims should have to worry about in the difficult hours and days following a sexual assault is whether they have become pregnant from the attack,”” said Terri Poore, Director of Public Policy for the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence, which collaborated with the ACLU of Florida to develop the study. “”But the sad reality is that each year hundreds of sexual assault patients become pregnant from these assaults simply because they walked into emergency care facilities that did not provide them with emergency contraception.””

The ACLU conducted a statewide telephone survey of hospital emergency rooms and sexual assault treatment centers with which many hospitals partner. The study assessed whether sexual assault patients receive emergency contraception (EC), a safe and reliable method for preventing pregnancy after unprotected intercourse.

Also known as the “”morning-after pill,”” EC works like regular birth control pills to reduce a woman’s risk of becoming pregnant after unprotected intercourse by as much as 89 percent. The Florida Medical Association, the American Public Health Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have all urged that EC be offered to all sexual assault patients if they are at risk of pregnancy.

The ACLU survey selected a random sample of 139 hospitals with emergency departments out of Florida’s total of 233 emergency departments. Eighty-eight hospitals responded to the survey. The ACLU then conducted a follow-up survey of the 35 sexual assault treatment centers with which some of the 88 hospitals have partnered to provide specialized care for sexual assault victims. Twenty-five of the sexual assault treatment centers responded. The ACLU interviewers who conducted the surveys spoke to emergency department directors, staff nurses, nurse managers or nurse examiners who are familiar with the treatment of sexual assault patients.

An examination of the 113 emergency care facilities responding to the survey revealed that 47 percent of hospital emergency departments and sexual assault treatment centers provide patients with inconsistent care, failing to ensure that sexual assault patients leave the facility with EC. At these facilities, provision often depends on an individual physician’s discretion, the patient’s age or whether the facility has EC in stock — factors that put sexual assault patients at a higher risk of getting pregnant because they are less likely to take EC within the 120-hour time frame when it’s most effective. Another six percent of the emergency care facilities surveyed never inform patients about this effective form of pregnancy prevention or assist them in obtaining it. Only 35 percent of emergency care facilities surveyed ensure that all rape victims receive EC on-site.

“In analyzing the data collected from a sample of 88 hospitals and 25 sexual assault treatment centers, it is clear that victims of sexual violence are not receiving emergency contraception in a uniform and consistent manner, which would prevent pregnancies from occurring post assault,” said Dr. Sharon Maxwell, Director of the Institute for Family Violence studies at Florida State University.

Dr. Maxwell analyzed the data for the ACLU of Florida, along with Dr. Dina Wilke, an associate professor at the university’s School of Social Work.

“”This study reveals that there is a great deal of misinformation and opposition to the use of emergency contraception, even among health care providers who treat sexual assault patients,”” said ACLU of Florida Communications Director Alessandra Soler Meetze. “”Many medical professionals are still under the mistaken impression that EC causes an abortion. In reality, EC has no effect on an existing pregnancy, it prevents a pregnancy.””

Meetze also noted that 13 percent of the facilities contacted could not explain or were unaware of their policies regarding emergency contraception.

Although the ACLU of Florida survey focused on the availability of EC, the study also examined the extent to which other important medical services, including treatment for sexually transmitted diseases and forensic evidence collection, are provided to victims of sexual assaults. For example, 81 percent of the emergency care facilities surveyed treat sexual assault patients for sexually transmitted diseases.

Also, in 55 percent of the emergency care facilities surveyed, sexual assault patients are treated by a nurse — known as a Sexual Assault Nurse (or Forensic) Examiner (SAFE/SANE) — who has been specially trained in caring for sexual assault patients. In those facilities, patients who are treated by SAFE/SANE nurses are almost twice as likely to receive EC on-site, as compared to patients who seek help at emergency care facilities with no SAFE/SANE program.

The study also found that emergency care facilities that have an established EC policy are significantly more likely to provide EC on-site. For example, 52 percent of the emergency care facilities that have an established EC policy provide EC to patients on-site. In comparison, of the emergency care facilities that have no formal policy, only 24 percent offer EC.

In light of these survey results, the ACLU of Florida will be teaming with the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence, sexual assault patients’ advocates and the Florida Women’s Health Coalition to:

urge emergency departments and sexual assault treatment centers to develop written protocols for providing EC to sexual assault patients;

urge emergency departments and sexual assault treatment centers to inform sexual assault patients of the availability of EC and to provide the medication on-site at the hospital; and

encourage emergency care facilities to implement SAFE/SANE programs with nurses specially trained to care for sexual assault patients.

In a recent letter sent to all 233 emergency departments, the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence informed them of the results of the survey and offered support to assist local emergency care facilities in improving the consistency of services to sexual assault patients.

“”We want to ensure that all survivors of sexual assault, no matter where they live in Florida, receive comprehensive treatment, including access to emergency contraception,”” wrote Poore in the letter mailed on June 6.

To read a copy of the letter to Florida hospitals on-line, visit:

To view a fact sheet summarizing the EC findings on-line, visit:

Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.

Learn More About the Issues in This Press Release