Survivors of sexual assault will soon have an easier time receiving assistance in the wake of an attack.
Center for Domestic Peace and Harris Regional Hospital has collaborated to bring special nurses to the county to offer expert care to victims.
The collaboration was part of CDP’s work to bring assistance to victims of sexual violence back to Jackson County.
Forensic Nurse Examiners or Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners could soon be on hand to assist survivors of sexual assault. These nurses are certified for a special set of skills not only to help victims carefully and tactfully, but they also have skills that could prove useful in court.
“The forensic nurse examiners at Harris Regional Hospital are trained to collect evidence after sexual assault and can provide trauma-informed care,” said Harris Spokesperson Chelsea Burrell. “The forensic nurse collects evidence of assault, liaises with law enforcement and can testify in court as an expert witness. In addition, a forensic nurse can provide various treatment options after sexual assault as well as follow-up care.”
Currently, survivors are required to travel out of county for a forensic rape exam. Sometimes, SANE nurses come from Buncombe to Franklin’s Angel Medical Center, but if they cannot come the victim is required to seek services in Asheville.
Having to travel, let alone travel a long way to an unfamiliar area, for an exam can compound the victim’s distress.
Leaving the area for help, is “a physical stressor for those victims who need to receive services quickly and in a way that doesn’t add an additional stress,” said Wesley Myers, CDP director.
“They’re already under a lot of pressure to do a thousand different tasks while their brain is still reeling from trauma,” Myers said. “So, the less we can have them drive, the less we can have them sitting in a car dwelling with their own thoughts the better. We want to get them somewhere fast and somewhere they’re familiar with.”
Driving great distances or finding transportation to hospitals with forensic nurses also creates a financial burden for victims. Having services locally can eliminate that.
Any registered nurse may perform an exam and collect evidence, but forensic nurses and SANE nurses have specialized training in how to handle trauma and properly collect evidence so that it is admissible in court, and how to testify in court.
An entry-level forensic nurse examiner is required to have completed 45 hours of specialized lessons with specific objectives and 16 hours of clinical, or hands-on, training.
“The specialty training needed to be a forensic nurse demands the promotion of long-term healing,” Burrell said. “Each state has different laws about the collection of sexual assault kits. North Carolina does not have a law prohibiting a registered nurse from collecting evidence of sexual assault; however, the registered nurse must be a certified SANE nurse. A registered nurse without forensic training has no guarantee that the evidence will be admissible in court.”
The hospital currently has six forensic nurse examiners on staff and hopes to launch the program in August.