Help for sexual assault survivors when and where needed

The first class of Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner students recently completed a three-day immersion course. Photo by Susan Urmy.

Imagine surviving the most horrific experience in your life — a sexual assault — only to find that you had to travel elsewhere for treatment from someone with specialized training. That’s what the majority of sexually assaulted Americans — women, children and men — have to do. Although one in six women and one in 33 men will experience an attempted or completed rape, there are only about 1,500 Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs) in the country.

VUSN has received a $1.43 million grant from a U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) initiative to develop and launch a SANE education program. Vanderbilt’s program is projected to increase the number of SANE-trained and certified advanced practice registered nurses practicing in emergency departments in rural or underserved U.S. communities.

SANEs have specialized education to conduct forensic examinations that have been shown to provide better physical and mental health care for assault survivors, deliver better evidence collection and support higher prosecution rates. They treat patients holistically, with compassionate and comprehensive care that takes into account the patient’s current acute care needs and the possible long-term effects of sexual assault.

Mavis Schorn, PhD, FACNM, FAAN, is the grant’s principal investigator. “Currently, there are just over 800 sites in the country that provide SANE services,” said Schorn, VUSN senior associate dean for Academics. “The need for SANEs is particularly high in rural areas. Research has shown that the incidence of sexual assault in rural communities exceeds that in urban areas. Some states report few or no examiners in rural areas.”

Because they are in emergency departments, emergency nurse practitioners (ENP) are often the first to treat victims of sexual assault. Increasing the number of ENPs educated as SANEs will mean those patients will receive swift, specialized care. Additionally, many of VUSN’s ENP graduates choose to practice in rural or underserved areas.

VUSN launched its SANE education program in January 2019. In addition to ENP students, the first 15-member class included women’s health and pediatric nurse practitioner students.

The SANE project team also includes Assistant Professor Keeley Bowman, DNP; Associate Professor of Nursing and Medicine Melanie Lutenbacher, PhD, FAAN; Professor and Emergency Nurse Practitioner Academic Director Jennifer Wilbeck, DNP, FAANP; and Associate Professor and Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner Academic Director Ginny Moore, DNP.