Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner: How to Get Help When You Need It Most

When sexual assault happens, it takes courage to speak out against the assailant. Unfortunately, however, sometimes hesitation paralyzes us. Therefore, there is a need to have an individual with the skills required to ensure the process happens respectfully and proficiently and covers the victim in a blanket of security.

Key takeaways:

What is a sexual assault nurse examiner?

A sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) is a registered nurse who has undergone extra education and training to become certified in forensic nursing to provide care for a victim of sexual assault.

In 1976, Memphis, Tennessee, introduced the first SANE program. Later in 1992, founded by a group of registered nurses composed mainly of sexual assault nurses, the International Association of Forensic Nurses was created and helps to guide the world of forensic nursing nationally.

Studies note that the training a nurse receives for SANE certification ranks this specialty high in the perception of care received among victims since the program highlights the need to be mindful of cultural differences.

Understanding the aspects of the SANE is the start of empowering healthcare clinicians and victims to close the gap between sexual assault and the criminal justice system.

Usefulness of sexual assault examiners

There is a particular process that forensic examiners must follow when collecting evidence after a sexual assault. A SANE exam is more thorough and complete, which has led to more convictions. Through the history taken and evidence collection, a SANE can provide prosecutors with more information about where sperm might be present or the chances of injury from an assault.

Legal teams tend to consider a SANE to give credible testimony thanks to their high-level credentials and experience with sexual assault cases. In addition, understanding the crime as part of the role they signed up for, a SANE is more accessible and willing to testify in court.

Survivors have voiced the physiological benefits of a SANE exam as being caring and compassionate. They feel well taken care of during the process. In addition, the sexual assault nurse examiner listens to the victim's needs and concerns regarding reporting and helps ease their fears.

Responsibilities of sexual assault nurses

As a type of forensic nurse, a SANE has the training and knowledge to understand the effect that sexual violence has on an individual as a whole or in a holistic way. The sexual assault nurse gathers a history of the event and performs a physical exam with the understanding of the medical and legal significance of both.

Medical care and evidence collection

A SANE will examine a sexual assault victim through a physical assessment, gather information from the assault, and collect forensic evidence while remaining sensitive to the victim's cultural needs. The SANE exam is completely elective by the victim, and the victim is in complete control of any part of the exam they want or do not want to be performed.

The nurse examiner will perform a head-to-toe examination. A patient history is obtained, and DNA and possibly photographs are taken if needed. If a SANE notices any injuries during the examination, they can treat them at that time if they are minor.

Another aspect of the medical care delivered by a SANE includes pregnancy prevention and preventative treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.

Victim assistance

Some victims choose not to report the crime, while others report the assault to authorities. While knowing what to do next can be confusing, especially after a violent act, the SANE can help the victim work through those next steps.

The SANE will also provide emotional support and determine what needs the victim might have when they leave the clinic. Ensuring that the victim is safe, the SANE will assess the psychological stance of the victim to determine if they are a threat to themselves or if they need a follow-up for counseling or therapy.

A SANE can also testify for civil and criminal cases relating to the care given and findings during the exam, should the victim decide to report the assault.

How does a SANE exam work?

There are few SANE programs, and those that are available are usually out of the hospital emergency room, with fewer clinics. The SANE is generally available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Although each program is different, the SANE nurse generally receives a page when a victim enters the community's response system.

For the most part, the victim of the assault will receive the service of a SANE by:

  • A call through the police, who will take the victim to the hospital
  • The victim might go directly to the hospital themselves
  • A call through the designated crisis line

The response time from the SANE is relatively quick. First, the emergency department staff will check the victim and ensure no life-threatening injuries are present. If nothing needs immediate attention, the victim will be placed in a private room with family present if they choose.

Once they arrive, the SANE will then complete the sexual assault examination. The SANE examination includes:

  • A physical exam
  • Needed crisis intervention
  • STD and pregnancy prevention
  • Referrals for needed medical attention
  • Evidence collection

The SANE will help the victim work through fears they may be experiencing about reporting the crime. If they so choose to wait, the SANE can offer to provide an evidentiary exam kit that remains in the refrigerator for a specified time if the victim wishes to report the crime later.

How can I use this help?

There can be long-term effects of rape and sexual violence. Seeking help when a violent crime has happened to you can be scary, and having the right person performing the exam can be crucial for your well-being.

A SANE can provide the sexual assault victim with compassionate care and expert testimony. The SANE exam has increased the number of convictions, potentially helping the community by removing another perpetrator from the street.

If you are someone you know was the victim of sexual assault, it is essential to seek medical attention and report the crime. A SANE program might not be available in every state, so knowing your community resources is helpful.

RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline. If you need to know you're local crisis center, you can visit their website to see what assistance is available near you.

SANE and telehealth

Finding a SANE can be challenging. Not every community has access to trained SANEs, and victims might need to travel great distances to receive this service. However, thanks to technological expansion, there is new hope for getting this specialized exam to victims.

With grants from the Office for Victims of Crime, TeleSANE programs allow the SANE to communicate with other clinicians via video and provide forensic examination assistance.

The TeleSANE program uses telehealth and can assist clinicians by walking them through evidence collection and administering prophylactic treatments properly. The TeleSANE can also assist clinicians with reporting to the correct agencies and walk them through the appropriate process with the sexual assault kit. They can also help determine the community resources the victim will need for follow-up treatment.

Sexual assault has many implications for the well-being of the victim. Therefore, SANEs can help victims overcome the many obstacles they face after this type of trauma. They are becoming increasingly sought after and respected due to their intensive training and experience.

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