Blog

Helping survivors heal

By Ann Adlington

The statistics on sexual violence in the United States are sobering. According to the Department of Justice, there are, on average, more than 320,000 victims of rape and sexual assault in the United States every year. What is even more sobering is the fact that many of these victims never get medical care after their assault.

These statistics are what drive me to do the work I do.

Most of my nursing career was in the Emergency Department. I loved the unpredictability of the work and the challenge of handling whatever was sent my way. Over 27 years in nursing, I have taken care of many patients who were sexually assaulted. As an ER nurse, I comforted them and collected evidence to the best of my ability, but I never felt like I was doing enough. So in 2013, I dedicated myself to caring for survivors and began working toward certification as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE). Not long after, I was put in charge of building the first Regional SANE program in the Advocate Health Care system.

As the coordinator of Advocate’s south region SANE program, I am lucky to work with the most inspiring nurses. Not all SANEs work in the emergency department, like I did, but they all share a common commitment to providing compassionate care to all sexual assault patients, with a focus on preserving their dignity and reducing psychological trauma.

Nurses that become certified SANEs do it in addition to their regular job duties. They take on this extra role because they want to help survivors.

SANEs are highly valued in their hospitals. When a patient reports an assault, the SANE nurses take over their care from beginning to end. They do clinical assessments, carefully document injuries and painstakingly collect, package and store evidence to ensure it can be useful to law enforcement. They also work closely with a rape advocate to ensure patients have needed support during these exams – and a connection to support after they are discharged from the hospital. Most importantly, they work to make sure the patient has a safe place to return to once they are released.

The SANE’s work is not done when the patient leaves, though. If the case goes to trial, the SANE is called to testify, where she will be asked to discuss the exam findings and to educate the judge and jury about exam findings in sexual assault and psychological responses to sexual assault.

Today, Advocate’s South Region SANE program has 19 SANE nurses and another 17 nurses who have completed the initial training but are still working toward completing their certification.

These nurses are amazing and keep me motivated every day. They are going out of their way to help survivors heal. They’ve taken ownership for the SANE program at their hospitals, from top to bottom, whether it’s to care for a patient in need, restock supplies or mentor a colleague. And none of them are shy about advocating for their patients or the program.

In 2016, Advocate’s South Region SANE Program provided care to 261 adult patients and 116 pediatric sexual abuse patients. Our program continues to grow, and I expect our volumes will continue to increase.

To learn more about the Sexual Assult Treatment Program, visit our website.