How Specialized Nurses Help Sexual Assault Victims

It’s disturbing, but true: one in six women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. And one in 33 men will be sexually assaulted at some point in their life.

According to Kristan Napier, the coordinator of the ProMedica Regional Metro Forensic Program and a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) nurse, sexual assault and human trafficking occur in every city and town across the country, but Toledo has developed a model for combating this frightening epidemic.

“Do we have a problem with human trafficking and sexual assault in Toledo?” said Napier. “Yes, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it a hub. What we have done is identified a problem, and now we have many resources to address it.” Napier cited the Human Trafficking Social Justice Institute at the University of Toledo and the Lucas County Human Trafficking Coalition as two local organizations leading the charge.

However, Napier’s program also plays an important role in helping victims of sexual assault. As a SANE nurse, Napier works with children, teens and adults, some of them coming out of the trafficking industry. She also trains and mentors numerous nurses in screening and caring for this particular type of patient.

“All SANE nurses are RNs, and you need two years of experience as a nurse before you can take the training, which includes lessons on anatomy, injuries, and the psychological and emotional effects of sexual assault,” Napier said. “The bulk of the work is holistically taking care of the patient, and making sure we’re sending them home to a safe place with community resources they can use. Evidence collection is also a small part of what we spend our time doing.”

Though it doesn’t happen very often, the job sometimes requires SANE trained nurses to testify in court on behalf of the prosecution as to the evidence they have collected. Napier has testified four times since becoming a SANE nurse in 2008. With a lot at stake, the job requires a certain emotional strength that not everyone is equipped to handle.

What It Takes to Be a SANE Nurse

Napier worked as an Emergency Room nurse for 13 years before becoming a SANE trained nurse. She always enjoyed caring for the ER patients experiencing sexual assault, and soon learned there were better ways to care for this particular patient population. She was offered a chance to go through SANE training — a process that today includes 64 hours in the classroom and 32 additional hours of clinical time, in addition to orientation and hands-on training.

“There’s nothing like it in nursing that I’ve found, where I am truly one-on-one with my patient and able to give them 100 percent of my attention,” Napier said. “When something awful just happened to them, I can be the bright spot of a horrible situation. Maybe I’m the only one who believes them, but at least they have someone who did. It’s all about giving them back control of their body and the decisions that were taken away from them.”

“It’s all about giving them back control of their body and the decisions that were taken away from them.”

Kristan Napier has been a SANE nurse since 2008.

In a position that most nurses can endure for about two years, Napier has been a SANE nurse for eight.

“I think there are a lot of SANE nurses that get down on themselves in that they don’t feel like they are making a difference,” Napier said. “As patients are telling you everything that happened, we know that the majority of the time, it’s happening by someone who’s known to them. And with children, it’s happening by someone in the family. You think to yourself, ‘Wow, this is the person you’re supposed to feel safe with and they are the one hurting you.’ It really shakes your own life and takes its toll on you emotionally.”

Napier continued, “It’s not a job you do for the money. You have to have a passion and desire to take care of this patient population. It really is a calling.”

What Can Toledo Hospital Do for Me?

In 2015, the Toledo Hospital ER saw 290 sexual assault patients — a 25 percent increase over 2014. Napier credited this increase to better education and solid working relationships with law enforcement, who often refer victims of sexual assault and human trafficking to the hospital. Patients from other hospitals, including additional ProMedica facilities, are referred to Napier’s program at Toledo Hospital.

Here’s what people don’t always know, according to Napier:

  • If you’ve experienced a sexual assault you have up to 96 hours post-assault to be examined.
  • After being admitted through the ER, a discussion takes place in the Forensic Program’s private office. There is also a private exam room with a bathroom and shower attached to it, which is more secluded than the busy ER.
  • If you’ve taken a shower or changed your clothes, it’s okay. Ideally, you should come in right away.
  • By going to the ER at Toledo Hospital, you can get treatment for sexually transmitted infections and/or receive the morning after pill.
  • You have the ability to speak with an advocate from the YWCA who can share additional counseling and support groups available.
  • If you’re over 18, you have a choice of whether or not you want to talk to the police; you always have options, which your SANE nurse can explain.

“If you think something happened to you, come in,” Napier said. “Sexual assault includes oral, vaginal or anal penetration with a penis, finger or tongue. It also includes inappropriate touching.”

Whether you or a loved one is a victim of sexual assault, resources are available. Please visit the ProMedica Toledo Hospital ER within 96 hours of an attack. If you witness suspected human trafficking, call the local Child Exploitation Task Force number at 419-243-6122. Anyone interested in becoming a sexual assault advocate or volunteer can contact the YWCA’s HOPE Center.