ER Nurses Trained as Sexual Assault Forensic Examiners

Joy Hollowell

Updated 6 months ago

Emergency room workers are typically taught how to respond to victims of sexual violence.

But a program in Maine takes that training to a whole new level, and nearly every hospital in our state pays to have their nurses take part in it.

Joy Hollowell tells us about SAFE.
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“We know from the research that if a patient is cared for by a forensic examiner who knows what they’re doing, the short term and long term outcomes for that victim are improved,” says Polly Campbell, Director of the Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner program.

The state of Maine developed the SAFE program about 15 years ago, as health care’s response to victims of sexual violence. To become certified, nurses must go through 46 hours of classroom training as well as clinical work with prosecutors, police and other community members that help victims.

“When we have a patient walk in whose been assault, they have essentially had their control taken away from them,” says Amanda Blake, an emergency room RN at St. Joseph Hospital in Bangor who is SAFE certified.

Medical care is the first and top priority.

“We want to make sure that they are viable and safe and don’t have any major injuries that we need to tend to first,” explains Blake. “We are trained to ask the right question, to have them share their story in ways that are helpful to us when we examine them.”

“Then, if they want evidence collected, they certainly can have that done,” adds Campbell. “And the nurses are trained to do that.

The process can be time consuming, and sexual assault victim advocates say that again, is where this specialized training can make a difference.

“Fully certified sexual assault forensic examiners can help out that patient that they have from the very beginning through the end,” says Jodi Leach, Advocate at AMHC Sexual Assault Services, which covers Washington and Hancock counties. “They don’t have to bring in physicians to do the most invasive part of an exam. They can do every step along the way and don’t leave their side until they’re done.”

“This partnership between healthcare advocates and law enforcement and prosecutors is critical to helping victims of sexual violence take these first steps toward getting more control of their life,” says Campbell.

“I’ve seen patients walk in broken and I’ve seen them walk out ready to start with the rest of their lives,” says Blake. “And that is a huge reward in itself because no other real trauma that we see walk through the emergency room has that kind of turnover and I feel like it’s something that we uniquely are able to give to our patients.”
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It’s important to note that hospital care for a victim of a sexual crime is free in Maine.

Also, victim who come to a hospital for treatment do not have to report the crime. And they also have the choice of whether forensic evidence is collected. In addition, victims can choose to keep the evidence anonymous for at least three months.


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