If you’ve experienced sexual assault, you do not have to go through it alone. University of Maryland Shore Regional Health now has 11 nurses who have completed the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program and are available to survivors who seek emergency care following a sexual assault. SANE team members work closely with a team of trauma-certified advocates at For All Seasons, Inc., to provide a full continuum of care for sexual assault survivors on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
According to Karen Denny, SANE program coordinator, the training involves 80 hours of classroom and clinical instruction taught by law enforcement officers, survivor advocates, state’s attorney representatives and crime lab specialists. The training includes how to conduct a full medical exam, collecting a rape kit (if desired by the patient),providing treatment for sexually transmitted diseases and offering contraception, and connecting the patient with an advocate from the For All Seasons Rape Crisis Center. SANE nurses also are trained to testify in court as needed.
SANE nurses work to ensure whatever sense of control has been taken away from the sexual assault survivor is restored from the moment they step in the door.
“My hope is that if someone has been assaulted and wants to be seen, they know how to report or at least where to go to get help and receive medical attention,” Denny said. “The most important thing for a survivor to know is that the exam is run by the survivor — not the nurses, the advocate or the police. We complete the exam or any part of the exam when and if the survivor wants. We give the control back to survivors because they’ve been in a situation where they’ve lost control during the assault. And if the survivor wants to report to the police, I want to be there or have one of our nurses there to support that decision 100 percent.”
Survivors who don’t want to report the assault have the option to have a “Jane/John Doe” rape kit collected. If the survivor comes into an emergency room within 120 hours (five days) of the assault, a kit can be collected and saved in order to report when and if the survivor is ready at some point in the future.Shore Regional Health offers emergency treatment at the UM Shore Medical Centers at Chestertown, Dorchester and Easton, as well as the UM Shore Emergency Center at Queenstown.
The SANE program began at Shore Regional Health in 1988, but until now has only had a handful of participating nurses at any given time.
“It’s a huge accomplishment to have 11 SANE nurses who have completed the training program. All of our SANE nurses work full-time jobs in departments throughout the hospital system,” Denny said. “Completing the SANE training and being available 24/7 when someone who’s experienced a sexual assault needs you is a real commitment… our SANE nurses do this because they care.”
UM SRH SANE nurses also attend Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) meetings, held every other month in Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties. Denny coordinates these meetings, which also include survivor advocates, parole and probation officers, and representatives from law enforcement, the State’s Attorney’s Office and social services agencies.
“We come together to discuss past and current cases, what we’ve done right and things we can improve upon,” says Denny. “Is there something that a survivor needs that maybe someone else or a different agency may have a better handle on? Is there a witness who can be contacted by one of these agencies? And in terms of educating the public about the support and resources available to sexual assault survivors, are there community educational events where we can be getting the word out?”
For Denny and the SANE nurse team, an important goal is to make sure health educators and the community are aware of their options following a sexual assault, and more specifically, what to expect when a survivor comes to the hospital following a sexual assault, so people aren’t afraid to get care if and when they need it.
“I want to be there to be a resource for educators if they need information about care following a sexual assault,” Denny says. “With the trauma-certified advocacy team at For All Seasons, we are really trying to get the word out. We know rape and sexual assault are happening in our communities. It can happen to anyone.”
For All Seasons’ trauma-certified advocates are available 24/7, according to Ivy Garcia, director of victim services for the Easton-based nonprofit organization whose mission is to offer the five counties of the Mid-Shore comprehensive and integrated therapy, advocacy, education, and psychiatric care in a safe environment. The advocates stay with the patient at the hospital, if desired, arrange therapy for him or her, and attend court proceedings if needed. Garcia’s team of seven advocates includes men and women, five of whom are bilingual.
Advocates from For All Seasons also bring a Comfort Kit to the survivor in the Emergency Department and, in addition to making arrangements for therapy, ascertain any other needs the survivor may have, including housing and communicating with family members. The advocates work closely with the survivor and the SANE nurse to make sure all needs are met.
Denny said every year, SANE nurses complete additional training in order to maintain their SANE license with the Maryland Board of Nursing. In order to stay licensed as a SANE nurse, staff participants have to take three cases a year, take 200 hours of on-call duty for the program and have at least eight hours of additional education annually.
“This really is something we do because we care. These nurses are called out from their kids’ soccer games or called from bed in the middle of the night,” Denny said. “We care, and we want you to know that we’re here for you.”
“The collaboration between For All Seasons and Shore Regional Health to help survivors of sexual assault is essential to the community,” Garcia says.“One in four girls will be sexually assaulted and one in six boys will be sexually assaulted before the age of 17, with the majority of these assaults happening between the ages of 7 and 17. We want survivors to know — we believe you, we are here for you, we support you and you are not alone.”
About UM Shore Regional Health: As part of the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS), University of Maryland Shore Regional Health is the principal provider of comprehensive health care services for more than 170,000 residents of Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. UM Shore Regional Health’s team of more than 2,600 employees, medical staff, board members and volunteers work with various community partners to fulfill the organization’s mission of Creating Healthier Communities Together.