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Nurse Practitioner Perspectives: Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners


April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and an opportunity for all of us to learn more about this critical issue. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every 73 seconds someone in the United States is sexually assaulted. The data show that one in five women indicate that they have either experienced rape or attempted rape. In the transgender, genderqueer, or nonconforming community, the numbers are even higher.

So, how do we respond to this growing crisis? The first thing is to believe an individual who identifies that they have been sexually assaulted. Too many times individuals are too scared or embarrassed to even report sexual assault and often are made to feel it is their fault. This results in revictimization of the sexual assault survivor.  

The consequences of sexual assault are borne by the survivor often over their lifetime. The aftermath of sexual assault can impact the individual’s sense of safety, physical and mental health. Long term consequences include mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse as well as chronic health issue such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

It is important that all of us know how to respond should someone identify themselves as a sexual assault survivor. The most important thing is to hear their story and support them. Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs) are individuals who have been specially trained to intervene with survivors right after the assault. SANEs are educated in trauma-informed care and their first response is to support the survivor and help them to understand the options they have related to their physical and emotional health. In addition, if the individual wishes, the SANEs are trained in forensic exams.

Here at Michigan State University College of Nursing we train and support nurses to become SANEs through a Health Resources Services Administration grant. If you would like more information about this grant, please feel free to reach out to us. Each of us can impact the future through knowledge and willingness to promote healthy positive relationships based on respect, safety and equality.

This story was written by Dr. Katherine Dontje, an associate professor in the College of Nursing. Learn more about the college’s SANE training program and listen to our podcast episode on this very important topic.