Nurses pursue forensic training to aid sexual assault victims

A State of Arkansas Rape Evidence Kit. (KATV Photo)

For survivors of a sexual assault, choosing to undergo a rape kit can be a scary experience. But now, nurses are working to get a new certification that helps them understand the psychology of a victim, work with law enforcement, and judge the best ways to collect evidence.

When a victim comes in for a rape kit, nurses are the first responders. These situations can be very sensitive, so extra training is helpful. One self-described survivor of sexual assault says she wishes she had been treated by a sexual assault nurse examiner when she went in for a rape kit.

Angel-Marie McDaniel says after she was raped, she lost her sense of security: “It destroys a part of your soul. You never completely feel safe again, you never get everything back.”

She decided not to move forward in court, but did file a police report and have a rape kit—something she describes as another painful experience.

"It was a male physician, so that was hard," McDaniel recalls. “You have to go in this exam room, and strip down in front of strangers, and get probed, and picked, and asked questions… I just kept getting bombarded with questions: Are you sure you didn't change? Are you sure of this? Are you sure of that?"

She feels that if sexual assault nurse examiner—someone trained to take care of victims—had treated her, things would have been different: “Someone that was more compassionate that knew what they were doing, that had that training, and could make things more comfortable for me”

Meeting the Demand

Right now, there are less than fifteen nurses with this certification in the state. One of them is Dawn Thompson at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. She says she wishes more practitioners had this training because it helps with treating medical and psychological needs: “The most important part is the overall care of the patient.”

But also because of the demand. When Dawn started in a town in Northeast Arkansas, she was told she might see a few children a month—but that was not the case: “I saw a hundred and thirteen kids, the next year 140, and it just went up front there.”

Monie Johnson with the Arkansas Coalition Against Sexual Assault says this is why we need more nurses with the training: “Ideally it would be nice to have a sane in every hospital.”

That's why they're offering a scholarship and reimbursements for the certification: “We don't want them to have to struggle to be able to do this.”

McDaniel wants anyone considering this training or funding a scholarship to: “Please, please do it... Caring for someone after an incident is as important as trying to prevent the incident in the first place.”

Why are there so few of these nurses in Arkansas?

Most of these nurses are in more urban areas, which leaves rural communities without this kind of care. Part of the reason is the expense, but it's also very rigorous: at least forty hours to treat children, and forty hours to treat adults.

Sometimes people have to take time off of work, to go where it's offered, then complete it. So once again, the coalition is offering a scholarship to relieve some of this burden.

Do hospitals ever turn away rape victims?

We heard from both ACASA and ACH that some hospitals turn away rape victims because they do not have a sexual assault nurse examiner on staff, or feel unprepared to assist a victim. Angel-Marie says even though her experience was hard, she was glad she was not turned away.

Both Dawn and Monie added that even if hospitals don't have all the resources it's important never to reject a victim: there are instructions inside rape kits to help with collection and resources available as well.

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