Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner

Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners during training at Avalon Centre

SANEs listen intently during training in Sept. 2012.

Some victims/survivors of a sexual assault want to ensure their physical and medical well-being after an immediate sexual assault. The Avalon Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program provides this care while ensuring that the victim/survivor’s wants are respected.

A SANE is a registered nurse who has advanced training and education in forensic examinations of sexual assault victims. The Avalon SANE program provides medical examination and forensic evidence collection in the emergency departments of the IWK Health Centre, QEII Health Sciences Centre, Dartmouth General Hospital and Cobequid Community Health Centre.

  • SANE is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
  • SANE serves people of all genders (including trans-identified people) and all ages who have experienced a sexual assault in the past five days (120 hours).

Medical exams and/or forensic evidence collection through the SANE program will only be conducted with the victim/survivor’s consent. Evidence is not released to the police without the victim’s consent.

Sexual assault is never the fault of the victim. Victims/survivors have the right to be treated with dignity and respect during the hospital visit.

How to Access the SANE Program

  1. Go to the emergency room of one of the participating hospitals or health centres (IWK Health Centre, QEII Health Sciences Centre, Dartmouth General Hospital and Cobequid Community Health Centre). The staff will call a SANE.
  2. Call the Avalon SANE response line (902-425-0122), 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
  3. Call the Avalon SANE business line (902-422-6503) during Avalon Centre office hours.

Nurses on the SANE Response Line provide clients with non-judgmental, confidential support as well as information about their options after an immediate sexual assault. The line also connects the client with a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, who can meet the client at the hospital to provide medical care and/or the collection of forensic evidence.

The SANE Program Provides:

  • Response within an hour at the emergency departments of the IWK Health Centre, QEII Health Sciences Centre, Dartmouth General Hospital and the Cobequid Community Health Centre
  • Expert testimony in a court of law
  • Supportive follow-up for victims
  • Storage of forensic evidence for six months
  • Telephone response line for immediate sexual assault information and support

The SANE Program does not Provide:

  • Transportation
  • Medical services outside the hospital emergency departments
  • Medical treatment to anyone other than victims/survivors

Why Access the SANE Program

It is important that a victim/survivor of recent sexual assault/abuse consider seeking medical attention for several reasons:

  • To take care of physical needs resulting from the assault/abuse
  • To test for infections and pregnancy
  • To begin treatment if required
  • To collect evidence if requested by the victim
  • To reduce undue worry later on

What Happens at the Hospital?

After informing medical personnel about the sexual assault at the emergency room, or contacting the SANE Response Line, the victim/survivor can meet with the SANE nurse at the hospital for the medical examination and/or forensic evidence collection.

Medical and/or forensic exams will only be conducted if the victim/survivor has given consent. The victim/survivor can stop either of the examinations at any time.

Medical Examination

The medical examination, conducted by the SANE, involves:

  • Taking a medical history
  • Documenting details of the assault/abuse to help identify potential infections, injuries or treatment required
  • Taking blood and urine samples to test for pregnancy and/or infections (follow-up testing may need to occur in six, 12 and 24 weeks)
  • An internal exam (vaginal)
  • Provide information regarding follow-up testing and/or treatment
  • A general physical exam

Forensic Examination

A forensic examination may be conducted within the first few days following the assault.

It is preferable, but not mandatory, for the victim/survivor not to shower, bathe, douche, use the washroom, change clothes, eat/drink, or clean teeth, etc. until  the exam is completed. Any of these things could destroy evidence.

A forensic examination includes the steps listed for a medical exam and may also include:

  • Collecting clothing for evidence
  • A head to toe visual exam looking for bruises, cuts, scratches, bloodstains, seminal stains, etc.
  • Taking photographs of injuries

This process takes approximately two hours to complete. Only the SANE nurse(s) and other emergency department personnel need to be present during this exam. The victim/survivor may wish a support person to be present as well (i.e. a friend or a sexual assault worker). The police are not present during the exam.

What Happens to the Forensic Samples Collected?

With the SANE Program, victims/survivors make decisions about reporting the sexual assault to the police.The victim/survivor has three options:

  • If the victim/survivor decides to immediately report the assault to the police, the police will be notified. Forensic evidence will be handed over to them at that time.
  • If the victim/survivor decide not to file a report with police at this time, they may still want to have a forensic examination. Victims/survivors have the option of having forensic evidence collected, frozen and stored for up to six months.
  • If the victim/survivor decides to report the sexual assault within the six month period, the SANE Coordinator will contact the police and provide the forensic evidence. The police will then proceed with the investigation.

PDF SANE Handout

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