Many people who have suffered sexual assault live with the effects not knowing that medical help, forensic evidence collection, and supportive advocacy are available to them at no cost. Fortunately, nurses and providers at MDI Hospital have undergone training to help victims cope with and overcome the physical and emotional toll of an all too prevalent crime.
The Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner (SAFE) Program in the Office of the Attorney General offers training for health care providers in the care of the sexual assault patient. The training includes 40 hours of classroom and 8 hours of clinical learning. There are additional requirements for state SAFE certification that can take up to a year.
“Having trained health care providers available to perform the medical-forensic exam minimizes the waiting period to receive care, reduces trauma associated with the assault, and ensures that the needs of the victim are attended to and evidence is collected in a manner that meets state standards and promotes successful prosecution,” said Polly Campbell, RN, Director of the state’s SAFE program.
Throughout the state SAFEs are part of regional networks of sexual assault responders, known as Sexual Assault Response Teams (SART). SART team members include local law enforcement, District Attorneys’ offices, SAFEs, and sexual assault advocates. “Members of the SART share the common goal of creating a seamless, community-based response to the needs of sexual assault victims and survivors,” said Ms. Campbell.
Certified nurse midwife Linda Robinson, family nurse practitioner Angie Delvechio, and registered nurses Velynda Wiley and Vicky Eaton, all of whom work for MDI Hospital, have undergone the training.
SAFEs are trained to conduct the medical/forensic exams and serve as a fact or expert witness in court, improving the potential for conviction if a victim chooses to pursue prosecution. However victims of sexual assault in Maine are not required to report the crime to receive a medical/forensic exam. “Some victims are reluctant to come to the hospital because they believe that their assault will automatically be reported to police, and that is not the case,” said Ms. Campbell.
“It is important for victim/survivors to know that there is no cost for the medical/forensic examination. This is a free service. The patient’s insurance cannot and will not be billed,” she added.
SAFE training also teaches nurses and providers to quickly assess and treat injuries. While SAFEs can promote the healing of physical wounds, they also help people recover from the emotional trauma of sexual assault by connecting them with an advocacy agency like Downeast Sexual Assault Services.
“We can set them up with counselors or other community resources, or just help them understand that they are in control,” said Jodi Leach, Client Services Coordinator for Downeast Sexual Assault Services. “We can provide them with the support they need to transition from victim to survivor.”