ALTOONA - A new effort is underway in our region to help victims of sexual assault.
Eighteen area nurses have been specially trained in the past year to care for victims of sexual assault. That means anytime somebody goes to the emergency room at UPMC Altoona after an attack, a sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) will be available to them
Kim Corle, Nursing Director of Emergency Services at UPMC Altoona coordinated the effort to establish the SANE program. "We wanted to make sure the patients were looked at, really not just from the medical standpoint, but from the emotional standpoint," she explains.
According to Corle, registered nurses took 40 hours of training on the treatment of sexual assault victims . Not only do they do a detailed physical and emotional assessment, document injuries, and collect forensic samples, they also offer patients emotional and social support.
She says, "we listen to the patient tell their story. One of the main things of the support we offer the patient is, that we aren't judgmental."
"Hopefully it can begin the healing process while they're here, because this is something that they carry with them lifelong," she adds.
UPMC Altoona's Sane Program works closely with the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) for Central Pennsylvania. It includes law enforcement, the Blair County District Attorney's office, the Greensburg Crime Lab, and Family Services Inc., in Altoona.
"We're receiving a lot more calls to respond to the hospital, the victims we're working with afterward are reporting a much better response," says Jackie Bevan, Victim Services Program Coordinator, at Family Services.
Family Services sends a specially trained victim advocate to the hospital, when a SANE nurse calls, to support patients and make sure they know their rights and their options.
Bevan says, "they're feeling as if they're respected at the hospital. They're feeling that they're not being judged. It just make the whole process easier for them."
And Jackie Bevan says this quick, thorough and compassionate response sends a strong message that sexual assault is not okay and that it's not going to be tolerated.
Corle says the number of sexual assault cases seen at UPMC Altoona has jumped 65 percent since the SANE program began. She believes the increase is a sign of better identification and reporting of victims, not evidence of more assault victims.
Victims of sexual assault are not required to report the incident to police. They are encouraged to seek medical treatment.