Nearly every minute, an American is sexually assaulted.
1 in 3 women. 1 in 33 men. These statistics feel cold and clinical, clouding the intense personal pain behind the most intimate of crimes. Still more disheartening: Many sexual assaults go unreported, suggesting the already haunting statistics are much worse.
For those that are reported, justice for the victim is never a guarantee. While DNA evidence can be a powerful legal tool to identify, prosecute, and convict sexual assault perpetrators, collecting DNA evidence from a survivor is long, invasive, and, when performed by an untrained individual, even traumatizing in some cases.
| Related: Domestic Violence in the United States
The critical role of SANEs
Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs) are nurses trained in respectful, compassionate, patient-centered healthcare, including the collection of vital evidence for adult and adolescent survivors of sexual assault.
Uniquely equipped to meet the needs of survivors with compassion and accuracy, SANEs also serve as a vital link in the chain of justice for survivors.
A glaring need
Unfortunately, justice is not always served. Due to the time sensitivity of a sexual assault forensic examination, known colloquially as a rape kit, many survivors are unable to get to a healthcare facility that has a SANE on staff, jeopardizing vital evidence that could serve to convict their attacker.
Wide swaths of the U.S. are underserved by SANEs or other qualified healthcare examiners. Training programs for SANEs are chronically underfunded, even as the need grows.
One constituent’s campaign for change
This lack of SANEs came into sharp focus for one Washington State resident in 2014. After suffering an assault, Leah Griffin drove herself to the nearest emergency room and asked for help — only to be turned away because they “don’t do rape kits here.” She was redirected instead to another facility where, after more than 12 hours, a trained nurse arrived and was able to complete her exam.
Later proceedings determined the physical evidence was not strong enough to prosecute her attacker. The man was never charged.
Leah’s experience led her to advocate for change. From phone calls to local reps to letters to Congress, she shared her story and concerns about the lack of SANEs with anyone who’d listen.
Thankfully, some did.
SASCA: Survivor’s Access to Supportive Care Act
Introduced to Congress in 2016, the Survivor’s Access to Supportive Care Act (SASCA) seeks to increase the understanding and access to sexual assault care on a national level. It also expands access to SANE services.
“Inspired by Seattle’s Leah Griffin and written on behalf of survivors across America, the Survivors Access to Supportive Care Act is bipartisan, bicameral legislation that urgently expands access to supports and services for survivors of sexual assault and finally establishes national standards of care,” said Washington congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, a co-sponsor of SASCA alongside Washington Senator Patty Murray.
What’s in SASCA?
Specifically, the bill establishes:
- Extensive training for healthcare professionals on conducting sexual assault examinations and treating survivors of sexual assault, including in rural and tribal settings
- Grants for states to assess the availability of trained providers to perform sexual assault examinations
- A task force that assists state-level efforts to improve medical forensic evidence collection related to sexual assault.
The bill also requires institutions of higher education to provide information about the availability of sexual assault examinations to survivors of sexual assault.
| Want to help make a difference? Advocate for the passage of SASCA by contacting your state representative.
What does it take to become a SANE?
To work as a SANE, nurses must complete 40 hours of didactic education approved by the International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN), plus an additional 16 clinical hours aiding adult and adolescent sexual assault survivors.
Elite’s 40-hour SANE course, approved by IAFN, explores trauma-informed and patient-centered care; injury identification and documentation; evidence collection and handling; and legal issues and testimony.