A rape crisis in NC: Shortage of nurses specially trained to examine victims of sexual assault

A rape crisis in NC: Shortage of nurses specially trained to examine victims of sexual assault

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - A troubling, new report from Carolina Public Press uncovered a shortage across the state of sexual assault nurse examiners (SANE) nurses, who are specially trained to treat and help a victim of rape.

SANE nurses are one of the first in the emergency room when a woman or a man comes in after a traumatic sexual assault. They are trained in evidence collection after someone has been the victim of a sexual assault and know the type of care that a person that has been assaulted is likely to need, including the need for emergency contraceptives and what to do for prevention of sexually transmitted infections.

“They also have an understanding of the type of trauma that a person has gone through, so they can talk to them in a way that is informed, trauma-informed, and can help that person talk about their assault later with police officers, if they choose to do so,” said Kate Martin, a reporter with Carolina Public Press.

Martin researched the topic for months. As part of that research, she surveyed hospitals across the state.

She discovered many medical facilities don’t have SANE nurses.

“Depending on where you live, though, there might be sexual assault nurse examiners in your hospitals 24 hours a day seven days a week,” she said. “It’s more likely that if you live in a rural area that your hospital either doesn’t have any at all or they have somebody that’s only there part of the time. So, if you show up at that hospital, depending on when you show up, you may have to wait a while for a specially trained nurse.”

Martin says in the WECT viewing area, three of the five counties replied to her survey and stated they have SANE nurses.

“New Hanover Regional Medical Center said in its survey response that they have three certified SANE nurses.,” she said. “In addition to that, they also have ten nurses who are trained in SANE techniques and another three nurses who are trained in SANE techniques for pediatric patients.”

Pender and Brunswick Counties also have SANE nurses.

Neither Columbus nor Bladen Counties replied to the survey.

One of the biggest surprises was at a medical facility in Fayetteville.

Martin says her research showed Cape Fear Valley Medical Center has some of the largest volumes of emergency room traffic in the entire country, but the facility has no SANE nurses.

“When I reached out to Cape Fear Valley Medical Center, they responded and said that they didn’t have any SANE nurses at all and that people who are sexually assaulted have to wait in the emergency room with everybody else, sometimes until all of the more medically emergent cases are taken care of which could be quite a long time,” Martin said.

Martin said Cape Fear Valley Medical Center recently followed up and indicated the facility was now in the process of training several people to become SANE certified.

In addition to the treatment and care rape victims get in the emergency room, Martin said her findings show SANE nurses can impact court cases.

“Prosecutors that I’ve spoken to said that when you have a SANE nurse, a qualified and certified SANE nurse involved in a case, those cases a more likely to be brought forth to trial and are more likely to result in a conviction and longer sentences than in cases where a SANE certified nurse is not involved,” she said.

Martin’s report reveals that what’s just as troubling as the lack of SANE nurses across the state is that no one is keeping track of the numbers.

She took the matter to North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein.

“What Attorney General Josh Stein said in an interview last week was that every hospital system in North Carolina should have nurses trained to deal with these types of crimes to serve people in need,” Martin said. “He thinks this is something that the legislature and a discussion with health systems should address.”

To be clear, any sexual assault victim will be treated in an emergency room whether there is a SANE nurse present or not. They just may not get the specialized care that exists when there is a SANE nurse.

“There’s also an option to get your sexual assault kit performed by someone who is not a certified SANE nurse—a sexual assault nurse examiner. That’s allowed, but for many reasons rape crisis counselors and prosecutors consider a SANE certification to be the gold standard for treatment for assault victims,” Martin explained.

To read the first part of Martin’s two-part special report, click here.

Carolina Public Press is hosting a Q&A with Kate Martin on Feb. 4 from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. To sign up, click here.

Copyright 2021 WECT. All rights reserved.