Learn more about the role of a sexual assault nurse examiner – Part 1

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A pre-nursing student with her mentor A sexual assault nurse examiner is an RN or registered nurse who has undergone specialised forensic training that is focused on treating victims of sexual assault. Also referred to as SAFE (sexual assault forensic examiner) or a SANC (sexual assault nurse clinician), these professionals are usually employed in hospitals or clinics where they are on call twenty-four hours a day to help individuals who have been sexually assaulted.

Before this particular nursing specialty was established, victims of sexual assault were examined by any medical practitioner who happened to be on duty in the hospital or ER at that time. However, these medical personnel did not receive any training in how to collect evidence accurately nor did they receive any sensitivity training in how to deal with patients who were highly traumatised. The SANE specialty was born out of the acute need for nursing professionals who had undergone training in both these vital aspects.

 

Job description

A sexual assault nurse examiner’s job is multi-faceted and highly specialised. It goes beyond typical medical examinations or emergency care. In examining victims of sexual assault, SANE nurses approach their work with extreme sensitivity combined with highly specialised knowledge about the medical and legal implications of sex crimes. They have to take extreme caution not just in handling the patient’s physical and emotional wounds but also in looking for and preserving any evidence that can be used to incriminate the perpetrator. 

As part of their responsibility, SANE nurses evaluate, file and preserve evidence that would be used for the legal aspect of the case. The work that these professionals do is crucial to adequately serving victims of sexual assault.

SANE nurses have advanced knowledge of how to collect, preserve and document evidence. They understand the legal proceedings that will follow and what is necessary to prosecute the perpetrators successfully. The use of these specialist nurses has resulted in much higher chances of perpetrators being prosecuted and more importantly, it has also helped protect victims of violent crime from feeling like they are unprotected, vulnerable and not understood.

A SANE exam has several very specific components which have to be executed very carefully and precisely, both for the victim’s safety and also so that the perpetrator can be convicted. Here are the basic steps involved:

  • Interview the victim
  • Prep the victim for various investigative exams that would help prove the identity of the perpetrator
  • Conduct STD and pregnancy risk evaluations
  • Gather evidence carefully and accurately
  • Document evidence properly
  • Offer counselling or provide reference to a recommended counsellor 
  • Provide emotional support
  • Assess the patient’s emotional state to determine if further evaluation or treatment is necessary
  • Provide referrals to legal aid and advocacy groups

 

SANE nurses are also required to testify in court. This is in fact an important part of being a SANE worker. 

 

Part 2 of this series will look at the routes to becoming a sexual assault nurse examiner and the different specialisations available.

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