Program provides support for rape victims

Published 12:39 pm Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Victims of rape or sexual assault deal with a myriad of emotions in the hours and days that immediately follow the crime. The last thing they need is to be traumatized all over again by the process that ensues.

A new program at Chilton Medical Center seeks to make the forensic examination process easier for the victim, both physically and emotionally. The SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) program utilizes professionals specifically trained to exam sexual assault victims, gather evidence and follow up with the victim through advocacy and counseling.

The full name of the program is SANE/SART Chilton; SART stands for Sexual Assault Response Team. Four nurses who are on call 24 hours a day make up CMC’s SANE team, while SART includes law enforcement, advocates and counselors.

“CMC has seen an increase in sexual assault cases over the past two years,” said Robin Yeargan, support director for SANE. “We want to be able to provide more support for the victim than just the medical exam. The nurses, officers and advocates are trained to professionally provide the victim with support, resources and a timely collection of forensic evidence while assuring privacy, dignity and compassion during treatment.”

But the program is not just for victims. It provides resources about how one can prevent rape, myths about rape, possible signs of abuse and important contact information for the public.

According to the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center, 1,408 women reported being raped in Alabama in 2007. In 72 percent of the cases, the victim either knew or was related to the offender.

There were 588 juvenile female rape victims, which constitutes 42 percent of the overall number of female victims statewide.

Yeargan said those statistics are reflected in Chilton County, especially the fact that most victims already know the offender.

CMC has performed forensic exams as long as the need has existed, but the SANE program has brought more unity to the team of professionals and enables them to better perform their jobs.

“We’re taught specific things to look for in order to collect evidence that would help in the prosecution of a case,” said SANE coordinator and nurse Audrey Jones.

As a result, the victim doesn’t have to see as many people in the exam room. Also, exams are done in a private area of the hospital rather than the ER. Dr. Wayne Barefield, medical director, said that makes a huge difference.

“When patients came in here before, you had several layers of people who would have to go in and examine the patient. Now, you have a nurse that’s trained not only from a forensic evidence perspective but also on the emotional, empathetic side,” he said.

A SANE/SART team formation meeting was held April 28, and every law enforcement agency in the county was represented. Yeargan said the program will be officially up and running by June 1, but they are equipped and ready to operate now.

“We are ready, and should there be any victims presented to CMC before that date, we are ready and will proceed with the SANE exam,” she said.

Anyone who is interested in being an advocate for a sexual assault victim should contact Yeargan at 755-2500, extension 586.

Victims or anyone who knows a victim can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline 24 hours a day at 1-800-656-HOPE. Locally, you can speak directly with a nurse by calling 1-800-605-0806.