On Tuesday, Penn State’s College of Nursing celebrated the open house for a new project that will utilize technology to help increase access to sexual assault forensic exams in underserved and rural areas in Pennsylvania.
The Pennsylvania Sexual Assault Forensic Examination and Telehealth (SAFE-T) Center is funded by a $1.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice.
The project will be “transformative” for sexual assault victims in Pennsylvania, said Kristina Rose, U.S. Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime deputy director.
Its mission is “to create a sustainable solution to enhance access to high-quality forensic sexual assault care in underserved areas,” said Sheridan Miyamoto, assistant professor of nursing and principal investigator.
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The goal for the project is three-fold: to make patients feel like they’re in good hands and empowered to make decisions that are right for them; to increase the confidence and skills of clinicians and retain Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners; and to provide a better quality of evidence in the criminal justice system that leads to successful investigations, prosecutions and convictions, Rose said.
“My vision, quite simply, is for every hospital in this country, regardless of where it is located, and regardless of where the victims are located, that they have access to expert SANE services,” Rose said. “And I know that the SAFE-T Center, here at Penn State, is going to do just that for sexual assault victims in Pennsylvania.”
The SAFE-T Center will establish a 24/7 mentoring and support network for forensic nurses in rural areas to remotely connect with experienced SANEs during adult and adolescent sexual assault examinations.
An integral piece of the project is the lab, which will function as a telehealth hub, Miyamoto said.
The project’s pilot site hospital partners are Geisinger Lewistown, J.C. Blair Memorial Hospital, Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hospital and Penn Highlands DuBois, she said.
“When sexual assault victims present themselves at a hospital, if they’re not cared for by someone who has been trained in how to do a forensic exam and to understand the dynamics around sexual assault, that can be the beginning of the end for them,” Rose said.
If sexual assault survivors’ first point of contact is a SANE, they’re more likely to have a good experience that puts them on the path to healing and being more likely to participate in the criminal justice system, she said.
Nursing is important to the entire equation of victim services and the solutions of child maltreatment, said Jennie Noll, director of Penn State’s Child Maltreatment Solutions Network.
Many victims have to travel to get forensic exams. Bringing them into a facility that’s close to home, that they’re comfortable in, reduces stigma and trauma and increases the chance of healing in a profound way, she said.