A SANE approach to treating victims of sexual assault

During this past spring semester, a student enrolled in one of my classes at the University of Colorado in Boulder came to my office hours to explain why she had missed class the previous day. She told me that her friend had been sexually assaulted, and that friend had asked for her help, so she took her to Boulder Community Hospital, the closest hospital to campus. They spent three hours there, during which time the victim was interviewed by a male police officer and told that if she wanted to have physical evidence taken (a rape kit), she would have to go to Saint Anthony’s Hospital in Westminster, where a rape exam would be done. So in the middle of the night, hours after being assaulted and having to relate the details of that assault to a male police officer, the victim had to arrange her own transportation to another city and wait even longer in order to collect evidence of the violent crime committed against her.
I was sure that the student had been given false information, and that in Boulder, Colorado, there must be a public facility that provides rape kits and female physicians and police officers to treat and interview victims. I was surprised to learn that there is not. According to the CU Office of Victim Assistance, “Evidence collection, often referred to as a ‘rape kit,’ is done at St. Anthony’s North Hospital in Westminster by trained Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE).” However, if a student is assaulted on campus, and university police take the report, officers will ensure that the victim is transported to Saint Anthony’s if the victim wants to have evidence collected. And the Office of Victim Assistance does provide campus and community resources for emergency contraception and STD testing. These options include The Women’s Clinic at Wardenburg Student Health Center, Boulder Valley Women’s Health Clinic, and Planned Parenthood. However, these facilities do not provide rape kits, and they operate during regular business hours only. If you are victimized after hours, you have to wait until the following morning to be seen.
According to the City of Boulder Police Department, if an assault occurs off campus and within city limits, victims usually are not provided with transportation from Boulder to Saint Anthony’s; they must know or be told that Saint Anthony’s is where they need to go for a rape kit, and they most often have to provide their own transportation. While it is certainly understandable that local law enforcement agencies and hospital staff want victims to receive the specialized care provided by the nurses at Saint Anthony’s, requiring victims to travel to another city prolongs their traumatic experience. Perhaps it is time to reconsider establishing a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners program in Boulder.
The SANE program, first started in 1976, was designed to provide skilled evidence collection that assists in convictions, together with compassionate treatment that focuses on the needs of rape victims. Staffed by specially trained female nurses, SANE programs are endorsed by the U.S. Department of Justice as well as women’s health practitioners and victim advocates nationwide. To establish and staff such a specialized program can be costly, as the program must have funding for training, on-call fees, salaries, and equipment. Most of the current SANE programs obtain their funding from a variety of sources, including grants for initial start-up funds, city funding, and even private donor funding. The hospitals that house the programs usually cover the cost of spaces and the nurses’ salaries. Establishing a SANE program at a Boulder hospital would better meet the needs of victims of sexual assault in our community. It is an investment that is well worth the cost.

Diane DeBella

As a writer, teacher, and speaker Diane has spent over twenty years examining women’s issues. She is the author of the collective memoir *I Am Subject: Sharing Our Truths to Reclaim Our Selves*, and editor of the anthology *I Am Subject Stories: Women Awakening*. As a long-time faculty member at the University of Colorado, she received the CU Women Who Make a Difference Award and the CU-LEAD Alliance Faculty Appreciation Award. Through her organization I Am Subject, Diane helps us understand how we—as women—are impacted by the society in which we live. By claiming ourselves as subjects of our own lives, we become empowered and also provide strong role models for other women and girls. In healing ourselves we help others—a beautiful way for women to create nurturing, supportive communities.

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  1. Diane DeBella

    There are currently 13 registered SANE sites in Colorado, with St. Anthony’s being the site nearest to Boulder. According to the SANE national director, there are approximately 500 sites nationwide.

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