SANE finds its way to the community to help victims of sexual assault
A fundamentally important new program has been introduced to the communities of Agassiz and Harrison. The SANE Program, (which stands for Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners) has arrived to help victims who have been sexually assaulted by providing proximity to medical treatment following an attack.
A SANE nurse with specified training will be on call Monday to Friday during business hours at the Agassiz Public Heath Unit to provide support and immediate care to victims.
“We have trained three nurse practitioners, one in Agassiz and two in Hope, to be able to provide sexual assault victims medical support following their assault,” Catherine Wiebe, for Fraser Health, told The Observer.
Fraser Health has a regional forensic nursing services program that’s located at Surrey Memorial Hospital and Abbotsford Regional Hospital, so historically, any victims of sexual assault, were referred to those two facilities for medical support and forensic evidence gathering.
Because of the disadvantageous geography, Fraser Health, took the initiative to train the three practitioners to provide support to victims locally.
“We will still be working with our forensics nursing program to do the actual evidence gathering because it needs to be done in a more timely manner,” said Wiebe.
For example, if someone was to go into the emergency department in Hope following an assault, they would be screened by the medical staff and the forensic nursing program would be contacted and the victim would probably be transported to Abbotsford Hospital to have evidence gathered, then a referral would go through to one of the trained nurse practitioners to provide ongoing medical support for the victim.
“Our catchment goes all the way up to Boston Bar and Boothroyd B.C. and it is a long way and it has been a deterrent for some people to get the support that they need,” she said.
The challenge to gathering forensic evidence locally, is that the person collecting the evidence should be someone different than the person providing the ongoing medical support in case of the ongoing potential for the evidence to be questioned, especially if the person is in a longterm professional relationship with the victim, according to Wiebe.
“It’ quite involved, gathering the actual forensic evidence, and making sure you have a chain of custody for the samples that are taken, so we thought rather than do the whole process, we will train our nurses in the process so that they are familiar and comfortable in working with the victims, but the service they will be providing will be that of ongoing medical support for the victims.”
Some victims might have chronic issues, like sexually transmitted diseases, and they might have actually been injured in the sexual assault and need ongoing support around that by someone who is well versed in the trauma that is associated with sexual assault, which was the impetus to get the local program up and running.
A referral process will be in place at the victims request at the Agassiz Public Unit, and the Hope Medical Centre.
SANE is also partnering with the Hope & Area Transition Society to create awareness and outreach in the community.
“It’s about connecting and getting the message out that services are available,” said Wiebe. “Victims of sexual assault do not need a referral and they can call the clinics directly and ask for the services of the nurse practitioner.”
According to Wiebe, only six victims of sexual assault came forward last year, and part of that was due to geographic separation from services.
“We will be tracking our numbers moving forward because people may still need medical assistance even if they’re not willing to go forward with the forensic exam — it doesn’t necessarily reflect the true number of victims that are out there, so that’s what we’re hoping to capture while providing these people with the services they need.”
SANE will also be partnering with the First Nations community. A nurse from Seabird Island is aware of the services, and that is something that is on their radar as well according to Wiebe.
“This is important for Agassiz because it’s essential to be a trauma informed community. Trauma has significant consequences for victims longterm, and so we want to be able to help anybody that might be exposed to trauma to get the help they need in a timely manner, so it does not lead to ongoing consequences for them,” said Wiebe. “We want to do that as close to home for folks as possible because we know how challenging it is for them dealing with the initial trauma, let alone the complexity of getting out to the services they need.”