Sexually assaulted? ARH nurses trained to help

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 23, 2014

Nurses can’t take away the pain of sexual assault, but a team of ER nurses at Andalusia Regional Hospital are now certified to ease the pain associated with examinations and interrogations.

Amy Herrington, ER director at ARH, explained that members of the nursing staff recently completed 40 hours of Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) training.

The training qualifies them to conduct sexual assault evidentiary exams for sexual assault victims, and qualifies them to testify in court as experts.

“Basically what this does, where the physicians usually have to come in and do part of a sexual assault examination, now the nurse can do the whole process from start to finish,” Herrington said. “All nurses we have trained currently are female nurses. There are males who are sexually assaulted, but it is mostly females.”

Herrington said patients feel more comfortable when dealing with the same person all the way through the process.

“They only have to tell a painful story one time,” she said.

Locally, she said, ARH has partnered with the district attorney’s office and with law enforcement agencies to facilitate a better nursing working relationship so that the patient or victim will not have to tell their story over and over again.

“The instructor runs a rape crisis center in Birmingham,” Herring said. “She came here to train our nurses.”

The training gave ER nurses good tools, Herrington said.

“There are some things we didn’t think about before, but we do now, that really help that victim at that point,” she said. “We do education with them as well, and make sure they have a good support system.”

The Jane Doe Law allows victims of sexual assault who are older than 18 to have the exam done but not report the assault to authorities.

“We have to hold the kit for 30 days,” she said. “Then, if they change their minds, the evidence is there for a report.”

If a victim is under the age of 19, health care officials are legally required to report the assault. Statistics show that most victims of sex crimes know their attacker.

Herrington said victims are offered pregnancy protection, and are treated for possible sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). They also are given information and advised to seek further testing, as all STDs can’t immediately be detected.

Victims are provided a rape crisis hotline number, but Herrington said there are no local counseling services.

“Right now, we have to send victims to the domestic violence center in Monroeville,” she said.

Covington County’s domestic violence shelter, Opportunity House, closed last fall amid allegations of financial misconduct that led to funding shortfalls.

“We do have some ladies who have approached us about getting some advocacy services set up here,” Herrington said. “We would like to have a group of volunteers who would come here and serve as victims’ advocates.”

While ARH normally sees only 11 or 12 cases of sexual assault a year, Herrington said the hospital has been contacted about the possibility of provided the service to victims from other communities. The next closest SANE program is in Montgomery.