After experiencing a sexual assault a hospital is often the first place the victim goes for help and medical services. Unfortunately, a hospital is not always well-equipped to provide services for a rape victim. Often they experience long wait times in a busy and crowded place, their trauma is seen as less important than other patient’s trauma, the staff is not sufficiently trained in the type of examination needed for forensic evidence, and worse, the staff may be unsupportive and even judgmental of the victim (from a report by the US Department of Justice.)
The SANE program was created to combat this issue and provide a safe and competent way for the sexual assault victim to receive the care they need. “Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) are registered nurses who have completed specialized education and clinical preparation in the medical forensic care of the patient who has experienced sexual assault or abuse.” Planned Parenthood of Southwest & Central Florida operates a SANE program in our private health center in Manatee County, allowing rape victims to receive their care in a quiet, private environment. Typically, the person is referred to the SANE program by police or paramedics, and brought to the center. There, the nurse examiner provides the exam, which in general consists of “the medical forensic history, a detailed physical and emotional assessment, written and photographic documentation of injuries, collection and management of forensic samples, and providing emotional and social support and resources.” After the exam, the nurse also ensures the integrity of the samples is maintained so that they are admissible in court, and may testify in legal proceedings related to the examination.
Overall, the SANE program provides many services: professional forensic evidence collection, documentation, and preservation of evidence, screen for and prophylactically treat for sexually transmitted infection, evaluate for pregnancy risk and offer prevention, document and care for injuries, refer for followup medical care and counseling, and aid law enforcement in prosecution. All of this is done in a private, supportive and nonjudgmental environment by a professional who is trained to provide specialized care.
It should be noted that the program is geared towards prosecution of the rapist, and if the victim is not interested in filing an official report she will be encouraged to discuss her reasons with the nurse examiner. SANE often encourages the victim to go through the criminal justice process. For a lot of victims, going through the process of reporting the rape and dealing with the legal process is stressful and potentially harmful (personally or professionally), and so many rapes are not reported. Still, the SANE program is a more private and emotionally supportive way to receive medical care, pregnancy prophylaxis, STI testing, and other resources after a sexual assault.