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National Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Shortage

Posted at 10:22 AM, Mar 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-10 11:22:33-04

Victims of sexual assault often feel re-traumatized when undergoing a physical exam to collect evidence.

To lessen that, some police departments and hospitals have specially trained nurses to do the exams known as Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) .

But as the problem solvers reveal, not every community has access.

There's a national shortage of a specific type of nurse that treats victims of sexual assault.

Meaning some survivors are not receiving specialized care that could help them heal.

Amanda Dufresne is a sexual assault survivor.

"I was on my daily run training for my first half marathon when I was attacked, beaten and attacked by a stranger," says Amanda. "I narrowly escaped with my life by rolling myself over a small cliff and running half-clothed to safety. I like to say that was the easy part, and everything following that was an absolute nightmare"

But she says there is part of her story she looks back on in a positive way.

"I had two incredible nurses who were empathetic and warm and kind and patient who were there for me in absence of family or friends."

Following her assault, Amanda was treated by a specific type of forensic nurse, known as a sexual assault nurse examiner.

"A lot of people don't know what they're allowed to receive, what they can receive, what they can ask for. That's the best part about being a SANE nurse is giving my patients that choice and that right back. And letting them know what is available to them," says Tammy.

First they address any medical concerns, and then they go through a history of what happened.

Following that, the lengthy and intimate exam starts.

"We can collect evidence, and we can do photo documentation as well," Tammy says. "It's incredibly invasive."

However, that evidence is necessary to find the offender and get justice.

SANE nurses are able to provide one-on-one care.

And that's why Jennifer Pierce-Weeks the Executive Director of the International Association of Forensic Nurses says they're trying to fill the gap of a SANE nurse shortage.

There is no mandated data as far as statistics on the national shortage, but Pierce-Weeks says they have feedback from hospitals and their patients.

"Widespread across the country, patients who present with sexual assault as their chief complaint have been turned away from hospital systems, have been misinformed about when evidence collection can actually occur."

According to Pierce-Weeks, there's been a shortage of SANE nurses since they were first implemented at hospitals in the early 1990s.

There has been considerable growth in their numbers the past five years, thanks to funding from health organizations, and the availability of an online training course for nurses.

But Pierce-Weeks says there's still a large need, especially in rural areas of the country.

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