How nurses can provide optimal care to sexual assault victims

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Nurses are accustomed to providing medical care along with compassion, and this becomes especially important when treating victims of sexual assault.

Some hospitals have a specially trained registered nurse called a SANE (sexual assault nurse examiner) on staff, while others partner with rape crisis centers to get the help needed to provide optimal care.

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In order to become a SANE, a nurse needs to be an RN and have an active, unrestricted license to practice in the state of Georgia. They undergo 40 hours of classroom training as well as clinical training, which takes six to eight months on average.

To provide sexual assault victims with the care they need, nurses first must provide privacy and a safe environment, according to Sarah Pederson, Georgia's statewide SANE coordinator.

This needs to be done in a non-judgmental manner, which can include such questions as "Are you in an unsafe environment?" and "Do you have any safety concerns?"

"We should try to provide a one-on-one environment," Pederson advised, since a patient's support person may have assaulted them, or the patient may be reluctant to share information about an assault in front of a support person.

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"It's really important to know that the duty is always to the patient. We are in a role as patient advocates," she said. It's the nurses' job to make sure that treatment is provided, referrals are made and patients are given access to the resources to get the help he or she needs, Pederson added.

Patients in the state of Georgia have the right to a forensic rape exam and to have a sexual assault kit collected, which is paid for by a victim compensation fund. This can be performed up to five days after a sexual assault, and if a patient feels conflicted about pursuing a case through law enforcement, this allows evidence to be preserved so that a case can be made later.

"Education is a big component of trauma-informed care," Pederson said. This means knowing that although medical needs are always addressed, steps can also be taken to preserve possible evidence.

For example, she said, clothing should be kept. And if the patient needs to urinate, they should be taught how to blot dry instead of wiping. If drug-related sexual assault is suspected, the first urine sample should be preserved.

For more information, Pederson recommends the following resources: – Sexual Violence Resource of Georgia includes resources such as the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) Guide, which is designed to help victim service providers, law enforcement officers, prosecutors and court personnel form a consistent statewide response to sexual assault cases. – National Sexual Violence Resource Center – National Sexual Assault Hotline, which nurses can call for access to the closest SANE services. – The International Association of Forensic Nurses, which provides training for SANEs. – Georgia Network to End Sexual Assault, which also provides SANE training to Georgia nurses.