It’s a Bigger Problem Than You Might Think
I have just finished teaching a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) course to a group of nurses from around Vermont and New York. These nurses will join 65 others around Vermont who provide specialized care to victims of sexual assault. During the 40-hour training, they learn about the dynamics of sexual assault and domestic violence. They also learn about how best to care for patients who have experienced sexual violence.
In Chittenden County and across the state of Vermont, we have an incredible team of professionals, including law enforcement, advocates, prosecutors, primary care providers, and psychologists who reach out and are available to help our patients begin their journey back to health and empowerment.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Although, nationwide we have made progress toward ending sexual violence, the statistics show that we have a long way to go. According to RAINN, a national anti-sexual violence organization:
- There are an average of 207,754 rapes and sexual assault each year (victims 12 years and older).
- Close to home, in the last three months here at Fletcher Allen, we cared for 35 patients who reported sexual or physical abuse.
- Experts believe that many assaults (54%) are never reported to the police and victims do not seek care due to shame, self-blaming, and fear.
Many survivors are not aware that a SANE Program even exists. They may go to their local emergency department and there meet one of these specially trained nurses, whose compassion, skill, and care help them begin to heal. We are often the first person to hear of their experience from start to finish. We are there to hear their fear and their confusion and their anger. We are there for them.
During an intense one-on-one encounter with a survivor, the SANE provides nursing care and assessment for injury or pain, counsels patients about and offer medications for sexually transmitted disease, pregnancy and HIV. In addition, we perform a medical-legal forensic examination and evidence collection, documenting injury and collecting potential evidence for evaluation by the state forensic lab. Finally, we ensure that they get important information to address their needs for follow up care, testing, and mental health counseling.
At Fletcher Allen we have thirteen SANEs. They are on call, take calls, and act as a resource for patients, professional peers, and community partners. We are often asked to teach at high schools, colleges and physician practices to help increase knowledge of sexual violence and available resources. We are also active in increasing awareness of the issue of sexual violence through fundraisers and public events.
The new SANEs who just completed their training will now increase the number of specialized nurses who will help these survivors begin their recovery.
Joan Carson, RN, CEN, SANE- A, SANE-P, is a registered nurse at Fletcher Allen and clinical coordinator for the Vermont Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Program. Fletcher Allen’s SANE program includes a Pediatric SANE Program as part of the Vermont Children’s Hospital.