More nurses need training to help sex abuse victims

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Capital News Service

LANSING – Michigan needs more nurses trained to treat patients traumatized by sexual assault, according to advocates for victims of sexual violence.

Advocates are seeking funding to expand a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, also known as SANE, program that helps nurses treat victims facing short-term crises and long-term consequences of sexual violence victimization. 

Sexual assault forensic exams, or rape kits, are used to collect DNA evidence from a victim’s body or clothes. Training to perform these exams are not part of the education received in medical, nursing or physcians’ assistant school, Kimberly Hurst, the founder of Avalon Healing Center, recently told lawmakers. The Detroit group provides free and immediate comprehensive care to survivors of sexual violence.

Hurst told a joint meeting of the Senate Civil Rights, Judiciary and Public Safety and Health Policy committees that she had no training on how to use a rape kit during her first experience as a physician’s assistant with a sexual assault patient. 

“I will never forget the disservice that I think I did to her, not even knowing how to open the kit,” Hurst said. 

She said the need for such programs is clear, with Michigan ranking fourth in the U.S. for the prevalence of sexual assault and seventh for trafficking, according to the FBI.

The Avalon Healing Center found that on average, survivors visit seven places, disclosing their abuse two to three times at each location, said Rebecca Campbell, a psychology professor at Michigan State University and researcher at the center.

“Each time they have to tell their story, it exacerbates their trauma and increases their likelihood of developing post traumatic stress disorder,” Campbell said. Post traumatic stress disorder is a gateway into long-term health problems, mental health issues and substance abuse.

Campbell said that further research showed that the health outcomes of survivors who never report their abuse are better than survivors that do report.

“The help-seeking experience is often so cumbersome that the trauma of the assault gets magnified over and over again. We don’t want our health services to make things worse,” Campbell said.

This process that can induce the trauma that the survivor experiences can be interrupted if the survivor is intercepted by a SANE program like Avalon Healing Center, Campbell said.

The 2022-23 state budget includes a $102,600 allocation for SANE programs throughout the state as well as a $430,500 allocation to track sexual assault forensic exams after 11,000 rape kits were found in 2009 in an evidence locker without ever being tested.

Sen. Roger Hauck, R-Union Township, said that a hospital in his district serves 10 counties with their SANE program that is funded out of its emergency department. 

“Thank you for what you do. I understand how hard it is and how comforting it is to help someone go through something traumatic,” Hauck said. 

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