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Contact: John Caher, Director of Public Information, (518) 457-8415
For immediate release: Thursday, Oct. 22, 2009

Local Sexual Assault Examiner “co-stars” with Emmy Winning Actress
Erin Ptak of Family Services appears with Law and Order’s Mariska Hargitay in training video

As a specially trained sexual assault examiner, Erin Ptak of Middletown usually functions far from the spotlight, working with rape victims in the exceptionally traumatic hours immediately following an attack.

But in a recent project with the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), Ms. Ptak appears with Law & Order: Special Victims Unit star Mariska Hargitay in a video produced to train doctors and nurses in the use of a sexual assault evidence collection kit – or “rape kit.”  Ms. Hargitay, a trained rape crisis counselor and founder of an organization dedicated to helping victims heal, does the introduction; Ms. Ptak, a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner at Family Services Inc. in Poughkeepsie, demonstrates how to perform a sexual assault examination.

“I am honored and humbled to play a ‘supporting role’ to Erin Ptak and the other dedicated professionals who offer both their clinical skills and deep compassion to victims of sexual assault,” Ms. Hargitay said. “They are the real stars of this show.”

The state Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) recently revamped the sexual offense evidence collection kit to reflect advances in DNA technology and to streamline an inevitably discomforting physical examination.

The new kit is being distributed to emergency departments statewide. In addition, a training video endorsed by the New York Academy of Medicine and certified for continuing education credits for doctors, provides a step-by-step demonstration on the proper collection of evidence.

The mission of Family Services is to help families and individuals help themselves through direct services, collaboration, and advocacy.  Family Services provides over twenty programs in the Hudson Valley such as Youth Services, Community Violence Prevention & Forensics, Battered Women’s Services and Family Education -- all designed to strengthen families.

“As a medical professional, my first responsibility is always to my patients,” Ms. Ptak said. “But in a sexual assault case, I also have a legal responsibility to collect and secure evidence. Those two roles require a delicate balance to ensure that neither the clinical needs of the patient nor the evidentiary needs of law enforcement is neglected.”

New York State Deputy Secretary for Public Safety Denise E. O’Donnell said the Sexual Assault Evidence Collection kit is designed to make the inherently intrusive physical examination less traumatic for victims and more productive for law enforcement.

“The proper collection of physical evidence in a sexual assault case is absolutely crucial in apprehending sexual assailants, and stopping them before they can strike again,” said Deputy Secretary O’Donnell, a former federal prosecutor. “As is evident in the training video, Erin Ptak has mastered the ability to collect and secure evidence in a manner consistent with her role as a care-giver.”

Ms. Hargitay, who plays Detective Olivia Benson in the hit series, said she became attuned to the epidemic of sexual assault when she started receiving dozens of letters and emails from survivors anxious to share their story. In 2004, she founded the Joyful Heart Foundation to heal, educate and empower survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse.

“That these individuals would reveal something so intensely personal - often for the very first time - to someone they knew only as a fictional character on television demonstrated to me how desperate they were to be heard, how desperate they were to be believed, understood, comforted and healed,” Ms. Hargitay said. “The healing process often begins at the hospital – and having caring and competent people like Erin Ptak there is a crucial first step toward recovery.”