In honor of International Forensic Nurse’s Week, we acknowledge the effort and dedication of the highly trained cadre of SANE nurses that provide sensitive and skillful medical attention to survivors of sexual assault. SANE stands for Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, a specialization that is necessary, beneficial, and valuable. SANE nurses receive extensive training to fulfill two equally important roles: collecting forensic evidence and providing trauma-informed medical care to survivors.
The forensic exam, also called an evidence collection kit or a rape kit, is a medical procedure that not only provides basic medical attention and care, but also systematically gathers, documents, and records signs of a crime. This may include DNA evidence from hair, saliva, semen, or other bodily fluids as well as documentation of physical injuries. If called for, it may also include drug testing for the presence of “date rape drugs” like GHB or rohypnol (although most SANE nurses are well aware that the majority of drug-facilitated sexual assaults occur through the use of alcohol instead of other drugs). In addition to a physical medical exam, SANEs may also collect clothing or other personal items as part of evidence. Above and beyond their medical duties, SANEs may be called to testify in court if evidence from a forensic exam makes it to trial.
Throughout the process of collecting evidence, SANEs provide trauma-informed medical care, which means they have an awareness of how trauma impacts the survivor’s experience as a patient. Thanks to media portrayals, we often assume that victims of trauma will react in a specific way: hysterical, crying, and distraught. While some survivors certainly do react that way, there is a very wide range of ‘normal’ responses, from vehement anger to numbed calmness, or anything beyond and in between. Although some people might label these behaviors as difficult or problematic, trauma-informed health care providers recognize that these vast and varied expressions come from a place of survivors trying to make sense out of a scary and unpredictable situation.
To all the SANEs who provide expert medical care to survivors of sexual assault, we thank you. You are a vital resource in our communities, a fierce ally in the struggle to end sexual violence, and a stepping stone on the path toward healing.
Natalie Ziemba is our Crisis Response Coordinator. She manages the Center’s 24-Hour Help Line, oversees our volunteer Companions, coordinates the Orange County SART, bakes delicious cookies, and more.