May 8-14 is National Nursing Week.  Avalon Sexual Assault Centre wants to acknowledge the contributions of the on call Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs) who are an important part of the Avalon Team. SANEs are registered nurses who also have specialized training as sexual assault nurse examiners to respond to those of all ages and genders. They have the expertise to provide medical follow up after an immediate sexual assault, to collect forensic evidence, and to appear in court to speak to the evidence collected as well as to serve as expert witnesses.

Along with medical and forensic training SANEs also have training in sexual assault trauma and trauma-informed response and practices. The SANE programs in Nova Scotia are unique in that they are the only community based SANE Programs in Canada.  SANEs offer non-judgemental medical care, forensic evidence collection, options after sexual assault, and referral to other appropriate services and supports.  Over the years of the program, people who have accessed the services have indicated how the SANE Program made a difference for them:

“The SANE nurses provided the services needed in such a traumatic time with care, respect and sensitivity. I greatly appreciate the emotional support, as well as the swiftness of the medical procedures carried out by these wonderful nurses.”

Along with providing direct service, the SANE program also provides training, education, and professional consultation to other service providers, medical professionals, and legal/law enforcement professionals.  Over the years, the Avalon SANE Program has been instrumental in working with government to develop provincial standards, influence policy and practice, and conduct research that is being used to develop SANE programs throughout Nova Scotia. Recently Avalon partnered with the Halifax Regional Police, RCMP – Halifax, and the Public Prosecution Service – Halifax to conduct a research project evaluating the impact of the Avalon SANE Program on the justice process.  The research indicated that immediate sexual assault cases that involved SANE were more likely to proceed to charges, court cases, and convictions.  The Avalon SANE program assisted in the convictions of 3 dangerous sexual offenders.  This research also brought to light some unanswered questions about the number of unfounded sexual assault cases and Avalon continues to work with HRP and RCMP – Halifax to address this.  The outcomes and recommendations of the research have received Provincial, National, and International recognition and are making a difference both at a direct care level and legislatively.

Nursing is a profession that is hard work both physically and emotionally. The role of nurses, a field of predominantly women, is often underappreciated. Responding to victims of sexual assault and abuse, being exposed to systemic failure and oppression, and witnessing the discrimination that victims/survivors sometimes experience also takes an emotional toll. It takes courage and strength for victims of sexual abuse and assault to disclose and seek medical treatment and support.  The Avalon SANE Program ensures that anyone who has experienced an immediate sexual assault (within the last  five days), regardless of age or gender has access to supportive, non-judgmental , specialized medical and forensic response, information about their options, and referral to other services and supports.

Avalon Centre honours the amazing nurses who are part of the Avalon SANE Program.  They bring a variety of professional skills and experience, compassion, and knowledge that enhances the program and strengthens Avalon’s contribution to sexual assault response and action in Nova Scotia.  Many thanks to all nurses and much appreciation to the Avalon SANE team.

To voice your support for nurses everywhere feel free to share this blog post on social media or write a post of your own celebrating National Nursing Week. Be sure to include the hashtag #YESThisIsNursing.

Jackie Stevens