Expert Health Articles

The Role of Specialized Teams and Professionals When Treating Victims of Violent Crimes

Violence is a healthcare issue that destroys the quality of life in communities and all around the world. The consequence of sexual violence creates many complex health issues that require a team of dedicated professionals. In most communities around the country, there are special teams that provide this supportive care to victims of sexual assault.

These teams are called sexual assault response teams (SART). Core members of this team include advocates, law enforcement, prosecutors, forensic medical providers including sexual assault nurses (SANEs) and forensic laboratory personnel. These team members provide a coordinated, multidisciplinary approach with the intent to reduce further trauma that victims of sexual violence experience. Without a SART in place, a victim of sexual assault may have difficulty navigating the community services available to them. SART members meet on a continuous basis in order to improve services for victims when needed the most.

Forensic nurse examiners (FNEs) are registered nurses who have specialized training, with a commitment to providing compassionate and quality care for those patients who have experienced a crime committed against them. This includes a wide range of crimes such as sexual assault, domestic violence, felonious assault, human trafficking (including sex and labor), elder abuse and child abuse/neglect.

Using a combination of nursing and forensic science, in conjunction with a solid public health foundation, forensic nurses are uniquely qualified. These qualifications include conducting a thorough head-to-toe assessment, formulating a nursing diagnosis, providing and recommending treatment within their scope, monitoring the health and well-being of a patient, providing education, evaluating individual and family needs, and intervening for persons of all ages affected by violence. These measures minimize the short and long-term effects of violence.

Forensic nurses are able to meet the evidentiary needs of the patient by collecting a sexual assault kit during the medical forensic exam. In Ohio, a sexual assault kit can be collected up to 96 hours for adults/adolescents and 72 hours for children. Nationally, the time for adults/adolescents is 120 hours after the assault happens.

When hospitals have trained forensic nurses, the sexual assault exam is conducted in a private, safe area with one-on-one nursing care. The sexual assault patient receives trauma-informed care that is specific to their immediate needs. Forensic nurses ensure that medications to help prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV, are ordered and administered. Priority is placed on conversations about the risk of pregnancy and, if wanted, emergency contraception. After the sexual assault exam is completed, follow-up care is discussed including follow-up testing for STIs and mental health care.

Michelle Stratton, BSN, RN, SANE-A, SANE-P
Forensic Nursing Program Coordinator
Emergency Department – Blanchard Valley Health System