PRIOR PODCAST: #MeToo Series: Much More Than a Kit
THIS EPISODE IS FROM MY PREVIOUS PODCAST entitled "The Restoring Heart Podcast." Website & social media handles have changed to @theashleybaxter on social media & theashleybaxter.com/blog . Go to the 8th episode entitled "Helping You Find Courageous Worth" for the start of the Courageous Worth Podcast. This old episode is part of my 4 episode series on sexual trauma awareness. A trauma-informed nurse shares important information about sexual assault forensic kits that everyone should know.
This episode is an interview with a nurse who is SANE certified. SANE stands for Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner. Medical professionals with this additional certification are trauma-informed and know how to correctly collect evidence during a sexual assault forensic exam, also known as a "rape kit."
An exam often produces the most impactful evidence in criminal court. However the exam is a long and difficult process for a survivor, and unfortunately it needs to happen soon after the traumatic event.
This is why it can be so difficult for survivors to decide to have an exam completed. They have just been horribly violated, and the decision to then have an incredibly invasive exam can be further traumatizing. A survivor should never be criticized if they decide to not have an exam completed.
As with all decisions in life, it is always best when you know all of your options and all of the impacts of each choice. This is difficult when it comes to the decision of having a sexual assault forensic exam because rarely are we educated on them beforehand.
Had I known everything discussed in this episode, I would have had an exam completed. If I had, then there is a good chance evidence would have been collected that could have resulted in my perpetrator being sent to prison.
Instead the state didn't charge him because it came down to "he said/she said."
I don't want any other survivor to be in my place.
I want everyone to have knowledge about these exams beforehand, in case you are sexually assaulted, or someone who has confides in you shortly after their assault.
KNOWLEDGE SHARED BY NURSE KATHY
SANE Training was Created Because . . . individuals who have been through the incredibly traumatic event of being sexually assaulted deserve to be seen by someone who can provide compassionate, quality care them as they who what happened to them. This medical professional should be trained to provide the medical care and treatment necessary, as well as have competence in evidence identification, collection and preservation, documentation of findings and providing testimony in court.
Medical professionals without SANE certification are not trained to look for certain types of injuries typically associated with sexual trauma. They also do not know all the way swabs need to be taken and how the specimen need to be stored in order to be valid evidence.
Not every hospital in your area may have a SANE trained medical professional. The reasons just mentioned is why it is best to go to a location where there is one available. Even though it may be longer to then go to a different location, it is so important. It will result in the patient getting the best care, and the evidence being collected in the best way in case the survivor decides to press charges.
Every Aspect of the Exam is Consent-based . . . The patient signs-off on every aspect of the exam before it begins. If at any point the patient wants to pause, or changes their mind and wants to stop the exam, that is completely fine.
Parts of the Exam . . .
Patient's Narrative: Getting the patient's narrative of all details before, during, and after the traumatic event.
Head to Toe Visual Exam: This does not involve any physical contact with the patient. Instead it is visually looking over their body, and paying attention to any areas impacted during the event. This can involve looking at scraps, bruising, using special lighting to show bodily fluid, etc.
Genital/Oral Exam: (If there was penetration to either of those body areas) Typically the most difficult part of the exam. Several swabs are collected.
Collection of Any Other Physical Evidence: Such as clothes that may have DNA evidence.
Do Not Have to Automatically Report . . . The decision to report the crime is up to the survivor. Getting an exam done does not mean they have to report what happened to them. It varies from state-to-state, but most states you can have the kit done and then later make a decision if you want to use it in pressing charges.
However, if the patient is under 18, then typically there are mandatory reporting laws.
How Long Can Evidence Be Collected . . . The sooner the better. The sooner done, the more evidence that can be collected. The more time that passes since the event the less evidence there will be to collect. For example, if you shower, then most likely you are washing away some of the evidence. Every location is different, but typically you have at around 72 to 96 hours to have an exam completed. However some places can collect it further out, and others their timeline is much shorter. However you can always call to find out the timeline in your local area.
This is just evidence for the kit. You may have evidence of other kinds that don't have an expiration date, but when it comes to evidence collected during a sexual assault forensic exam, there is a timeline within which it needs to be completed.
Although the first instinct of most survivors is to take a shower, try as hard as you can not to. If you have to use the bathroom, try to not wipe more area than you have to because of the evidence that may be in those locations (if those are areas that were violated during the trauma).
Sexual Trauma of Any Physical Kind . . . Although it is commonly called a "rape kit" it is a sexual assault forensic exam. Sexual trauma of any kind in which there was any physical impact to the survivor, then an exam may reveal evidence of the trauma. It is not just for sexual trauma that was rape.
There are so many ways that evidence is collected during these exams that even though you think there isn't anything that would come up, it if still worth having one completed in case you do decide to seek legal justice then, or at some point in the future.
This education is so important. Please share it with others because it may be too late for someone to learn about it after they have been assaulted. I would give anything to go back and time and have had this information.
Layers of Dignity is a non-profit that exists to provide the first step towards healing for sexual assault survivors. They provide tote bags to sexual assault survivors within emergency departments of hospitals and women’s advocacy centers. These totes contain brand-new clothes (since many turn their clothes in for evidence), self-care items, a next-step guide and a handwritten note from a fellow survivor.
Layers of Dignity is an amazing non-profit. Please consider supporting them here.