Sexual assault nurse examiners often see people on the worst day of their lives.
They then spend hours with the patient, documenting injuries and providing comfort. However, the programs that fund them are expensive and can pose problems, for smaller hospitals.
The three ribbons on nurse Tina Peck’s name-tag represent three populations she often treats: victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse.
“We can then collect forensic evidence, depending upon what happened during the assault,” said Tina Peck, forensic nursing coordinator.
Care for the patients by the sexual assault nurse examiners is literally a matter of life and death
“We do a specific danger assessment for domestic violence patients that lets them know their risk for homicide,” said Peck.
Here in the exam room using specialized equipment, sexual assault nurse examiners build trust, carefully document, measure and describe patients head to toe in an hours-long examination that can later be used in court.
“With it not being about us of course, but I feel, I have the mentality that they walk through the door being victimized and this is the first step in transitioning to being a survivor,” said Peck.
Related Link | International Association of Forensic Nurses
Beyond the exam, Peck and the other SANE-nurses provide clothing, new cell phones, even fresh-start bags from ICT-SOS for human trafficking patients… items necessary to get patients back on their feet.
“There is a lack of funding, for SANE programs specifically,” said Peck.
The forensic nursing unit at Via Christi relies on grants from the state. But rural areas often struggle to provide the same care.
“Our equipment is expensive, it’s difficult to provide someone available 24/7 that takes a lot of resources and funding essentially to make sure someone is always available,” said Peck. “So the rural areas have difficulty with that.”
Nationally, there’s a push for all hospitals to have someone available at all times to perform sexual assault exams. This comes following the death of Megan Rondini, a rape victim at the University of Alabama in 2015.
Ted Poe, introduced Megan Rondini Act:
“She (Megan) went to the sheriff’s department to report this crime. the sheriff’s department treated her like she was the criminal. She went to the hospital and the hospital really botched up the sexual assault examination.”
Rondini’s parents say that’s why the 20 year old later took her own life.
“We hope that there isn’t another Megan,” said Megan’s father, Mike Rondini. “That there isn’t anyone that is mistreated in that regard.”
Related Link | The Megan Rondini Act
Congressman Roger Marshall — also an OB-GYN — knows the importance of forensic nursing.
“I think each hospital that has an emergency room should take on the responsibility…from the same token that you have a trauma surgeon available if you hold yourself out as an emergency room, you should also have someone available for the sexual assault examination,” said Dr. Roger Marshall (R) – Kansas.
Marshall says he performed 100 rape exams during his residency that specialized in sexual assault. In Great Bend, he says he helped set up a response team for child victims.
“You should also have someone available for the sexual assault examination,” said Dr. Marshall. “It may not be someone standing there waiting for it to happen but as long as they’re available to come in within 30 minutes to an hour.”
A statewide coalition tries to reach western Kansas. Peck also provides help and reaches out to Via Christi locations in Manhattan and Pittsburg to help provide services.
Becoming a sexual assault nurse examiner requires an R.N. certification plus a 40-hour course on adults and adolescents and another 40-hour course on pediatrics.
“Once I found this profession, I felt like I found my niche,” said Peck. “It’s truly compassion driven to be able to provide this unique service.”
Additional resources for becoming a SANE: http://kcsdv.org/find-help/in-kansas/sane.html