Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Program
Since 2009, the Taylor Police Department has worked with First Step and the Wayne County Sexual Assault Collaborative to implement a sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) program.
SANE is a registered nurse (R.N.) who has advanced education and clinical preparation in forensic examination of sexual assault victims.1 In the 1990s, sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) programs sprang up in hundreds of communities across the country to address the inadequacy of the traditional model for sexual assault medical evidentiary exams. Those who work with sexual assault victims have long recognized that victims are often retraumatized when they come to hospital emergency departments for medical care and forensic evidence collection. Not only have victims had to wait for a long time to be examined, but those who perform the exams often lack training and experience in working with sexual assault victims and in gathering forensic evidence.
One advocate contended that the SANE program was "the best development in victim services" that she had seen "in the last 10 years." According to the U.S. Department of Justice, SANE programs address several problems in the medical-legal response to sexual assault victims in hospital emergency departments, including the following:
- Emergency department staff frequently regard the needs of sexual assault victims as less urgent than other patients because the majority of these victims do not sustain severe physical injuries.
- Sexual assault victims often endure long waits in busy public areas (4- to 10-hour waits are not uncommon).
- Sexual assault victims often are not allowed to eat, drink, or urinate while they wait for a physician or nurse to conduct the evidentiary exam, to avoid destroying evidence.
- Physicians or nurses who perform evidentiary exams often have not been trained in forensic evidence collection procedures or do not perform these procedures frequently enough to maintain proficiency.
- Some physicians are reluctant to perform evidentiary exams because they know that they might be called from the hospital to testify in court and that their qualifications to conduct the exam might be questioned due to a lack of training and experience.
- Emergency department staff may not understand sexual assault victimization (e.g., they may blame victims for their assaults or may not believe a "real rape" occurred) and overlook the need to treat victims with sensitivity and respect.
- Emergency department staff may fail to gather and/or document all available forensic evidence, particularly in nonstranger cases.
With the advent of SANE programs, it became possible for sexual assault victims to consistently receive prompt and compassionate emergency care from medical professionals who understand victimization issues (e.g., SANEs recognize that the majority of victims are assaulted by intimate partners or acquaintances).
A SANE can speed up the evidentiary examination process by reducing the time victims have to wait in a hospital's emergency department and the time it takes to complete the examination.
Evidence collected by SANEs can help link the victim and suspect to the crime scene, indicate sexual penetration or activity, and establish lack of victim consent (e.g., bumps on the back of the head, abrasions on the back, and nongenital bruising). Establishing lack of consent is particularly important in the prosecution of nonstranger cases.
Advantages to Law Enforcement:
The Taylor Police Department knows that a program such as SANE will present victims with a positive first impression of the community response, increasing the likelihood that they will cooperate with police and investigators and prosecution. Officers know that victims are in good hands with SANEs because victims will be treated with kindness and respect. Officers also recognize the increased efficiency that SANEs bring to the evidentiary exam process, and as a result, the time they spend waiting for evidence and waiting to interview victims can often be greatly reduced.
Detectives realize that SANEs can contribute to investigations by providing meticulously collected forensic evidence and extensive documentation that complement crime scene evidence and witness statements. SANEs have greatly improved the quality and consistency of collected evidence,