By Lisa Shrewsberry
Tara Martinez was at home with her daughter asleep on her lap when a friend messaged her about a video on Youtube. “One of the boys involved in the Steubenville (Ohio) rape case was talking about it. I became physically ill and could not stop crying when I watched it. They thought it was funny, hysterical, what they had done to this girl.”
All she could do was to look at her daughter and think, “I don’t know what I would do if something like this happened to her.”
Martinez, executive director of the West Virginia Women’s Commission, represents part of the combined efforts of the Women’s Resource Center, WV Foundation for Rape Information Services, and supporters like Beckley Area Foundation and The Kyle Group, to make at least one aspect of reporting rape more effective, efficient and empathetic for the victim — the visit to the Emergency Room, often the first point of contact after victimization.
Sexual assault does happen, to women and to men the world over, and at an alarming rate in the United States. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (www.rainn.org), every 2 minutes, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted. 54 percent of sexual assaults go unreported and 97 percent of rapists will never spend a day in jail. The present prosecution rate for rapes in West Virginia is 7 percent.
Lois Manns, a liaison for Foundation for Rape Information Services (FRIS), believes the numbers may be worse at closer to 72 percent of assaults going unreported.
“The number (who report) is a very low number.” Like Martinez, Manns is also part of a recent collaboration of several agencies and organizations determined to turn the numbers around in the victim’s favor.
Those assembled have earned or provided the funds to support 30 nurses on a first-come, first-served basis with SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) training, a 40-hour didactic course dedicated to caring for sexual assault victims and performing intake examinations. While the training traditionally costs $750 per individual to complete and has been accessed only by nurses determined enough to seek it out, Women’s Resource Center and their partners and sponsors are offering the five days of training free to accepted applicants. The training will be held at the University of Charleston-Beckley Campus, June 10-14.
Explains Dee Sizemore, Women’s Resource Center public relations and fundraising development coordinator, “Sex assault and abuse are highly underreported and underprosecuted crimes. The stigma that goes along with reporting and going to ERs where there aren’t staff trained to deal with forensic evidence or with how to be empathetic to the victim lead to further victimization and contribute to greater underreporting.”
One solution, the WRC believes, is to remove the barriers preventing nurses from becoming SANE certified.
SANEs (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners) are specially trained to receive victims of sexual assault with the compassion necessary to assist them and to perform the required forensic exam that could lead to prosecution of the perpetrator. A SANE nurse could make the difference between a positive outcome for the victim or a further devastating experience. Presently, there is only one SANE-certified nurse in the eight-county area encompassing Raleigh, Fayette, Nicholas, Summers, McDowell, Wyoming, Mercer and Greenbrier.
“This is vital to helping victims whenever they come into an emergency room,” concurs Barbara Kyle, president of The Kyle Group, chairman of the board of the WV Women’s Commission and wife to emergency medicine physician Dr. Jim Kyle. It was through her husband that Kyle learned of the collective weakness within ERs in response to victims of sexual assault.
“The victims arrive at a very busy ER not equipped to meet their needs in an empathetic and timely fashion. What could be a 3- to 4-hour exam ends up being 5 or more hours,” she describes, leaving chaos and a thin curtain separating a rape victim’s hospital bed from that of the next ER patient. And that’s when the victim musters enough courage to seek help at all.
“When you look at ER staffing, there’s one physician most of the time and one to two extenders (physician assistants or nurse practitioners). Most nurses have five patients to one nurse. Even if someone has the morality to do their best work, they know there’s no way to do their best,” Kyle states.
If the need is apparent to any, it is to Leslie Mateer, WRC’s Sexual Assault Service Coordinator/Prevention Educator, who directs services for victims of sexual assault, male or female.
Much of what Mateer does each day is in education and prevention — trying to stop the violence before it starts, visiting schools and delivering her message to youth. She has been an outspoken advocate against rape and violence for 11 years.
Responding to sexual assault isn’t a standard part of the curriculum of a nurse-in-training, she explains. “The Sexual Assault Forensic Kits kept at hospitals contain only those items needed for the rape exam and a 9-page instruction booklet.” Mateer’s description paints a bleak picture of the last thing any rape victim needs— for his or her attempt to do the right thing to be met by an arduous wait and a medical professional inexperienced in handling sexual assault cases.
Dr. Linda Ledrey, RN, SANE-, PHD, FANN, director of the Minneapolis, Minnesota-based Sexual Assault Resource Service, will lead the June training intended to augment the presence of SANE nurses inside West Virginia’s hospitals. Ledrey has been at the forefront of forensic-medical services to sexual assault victims since she developed her SANE program in 1977.
“She will provide intensive instruction including how to do the exam and the psychological aspects for helping the victim,” explains Sizemore, who is also offering (in cooperation with the University of Charleston’s Beckley campus) two meals a day and accommodations and mileage reimbursement for those traveling more than 30 miles one way. “The training is open to RNs, but they must attend all five days of training to receive their 40 contact hours (CEUs). Then, they just have to do their 30 hours with a preceptor and they can move forward with their certification.” Due to the comprehensive, concentrated nature of the training, attendance will be limited to 30 accepted applicants.
“If we bring this to the area and victims get a better response at the ER, eventually it will come full circle to being a primary prevention method. If the victim is not re-victimized by the process, the prosecution rate may go up because forensic exams are more efficient and because more victims will come forward.”
To access a SANE training application or for more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.wrcwv.org for brochure.
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