By Alison Bowen
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr)> Despite health and government officials’ recommendations that sexual assault patients be treated by nurses trained to recognize trauma and collect evidence, many nurses receive no such training.
When she woke up, she was naked in a stranger’s apartment. Her body numb, she didn’t know how she’d gotten there, but she knew enough to feel fear.
Kaite O’Brien realized she wasn’t having a nightmare, but waking up into one. She feared she had been assaulted.
In a Chicago emergency room that morning in 2009, her attending nurse was kind, she recalled, but clearly nervous as she opened the evidence collection box known as a rape kit.
“It’s a little weird to hear, ‘Oh this is the first time that I’m doing this,'” said O’Brien, 34. “It makes you feel very unimportant. Like what had happened to me wasn’t a big deal, so it doesn’t require someone who really knows what they’re doing?”
O’Brien’s experience in the emergency room isn’t unusual.
There are more than 196,000 registered nurses in Illinois. Only 32 nurses in the state are certified by the International Association of Forensic Nurses to work with adult sexual assault patients. Twelve of these sexual assault nurse examiners, known as SANE or forensic nurses, are certified to treat children.
Nearly 4,500 patients were seen in emergency rooms in the state for alleged, suspected or confirmed sexual abuse or rape in 2016, the most recent year the Illinois Department of Public Health has data available. And not every victim goes to a hospital. Last year, Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority data recorded almost 10,000 people who received services from state-funded rape crisis centers.
Despite health and government officials’ recommendations that sexual assault patients be treated by nurses trained to recognize trauma and collect evidence, many nurses receive no such training.