The response I receive after being asked what I do is usually a grimace and “That must be hard.”
A little over a year ago, I was hired as a sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) in Boston — a few months before the Harvey Weinstein story broke, around the time Bill O’Reilly was fired and just months after the inauguration of President Donald Trump and the Women’s March. In the subsequent months, the Me Too movement started to gain traction; survivors came forward and spurred waves of headlines in the media reporting pervasive sexual assault across all industries.
While focus on sexual assault this past year has increased, dialogue about what happens in the aftermath of an assault has not. SANEs (sometimes referred to as sexual assault forensic examiners) are post-sexual-assault care experts. We assess patients for injuries, offer medications to reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections and collect forensic evidence that may match an assailant to the crime. We also screen for sex trafficking and safety, all while ensuring the survivor is empowered and cared for throughout the exam.
One value of SANE lies in the fact that we are independently contracted through the state. Since we are not employees of the hospital, we have only one patient at a time, and thus our full attention is given to that survivor. In Massachusetts, where SANE coverage is provided 24/7/365, we must have at least three years of nursing experience before undergoing rigorous training; this prepares us to provide trauma-informed, holistic nursing care.
While focus on sexual assault this past year has increased, dialogue about what happens in the aftermath of an assault has not.