Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners have advanced training and education in forensic examinations. They will provide emergency response to sexual assault victims, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Upon receiving a call from the victim, hospital or police, nurses will respond to the emergency rooms of St. Martha’s Regional Hospital, Strait Richmond Hospital, Guysborough Memorial Hospital, STFX Health and Counseling Centre and also to Lindsays Health Center. Storage of forensic evidence is available for up to six months. Note that SANE’s provide service to victims of sexual assault of any gender, 13 years of age and older.
The SANE Program provides:
- Expert testimony in a court of law
- Supportive follow-up for victims and their families
- Storage of forensic evidence for up to six months
- After hours response line for immediate sexual assault
- Medical treatment and/or forensic collection (up to 120 hours after the assault has occurred)
The SANE Program does not provide:
- Medical services outside the established response sites.
- Medical treatment to anyone other than victims of sexual violence
What Happens During the Exam?
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
- To prevent undue worry later on
When the victim/survivor goes to a SANE response site and tells the medical personnel that s/he has been sexually assaulted, a SANE nurse will be called. They will be able to attend to the victim/survivor’s medical needs at this time, and if the victim/survivor chooses to have a forensic examination (evidence collection), the SANE will conduct the examination. If you report directly to the police, they will contact SANE to arrange for the nurse to meet you at the hospital.
The medical examination 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 6, 12 and 24 weeks)
- An internal exam (vaginal, rectal, oral) may also be performed at this time to check for injuries and collect forensic evidence
The purpose of this examination is to assess and treat any physical injuries you sustained during the assault, and to collect legal evidence to assist in the prosecution of your attacker. This exam is also called a forensic exam or kit - ‘forensic’ simply means that the information collected from the exam is used for legal proceedings. The physical exam helps to establish the time and place of the attack and determine the identity of the attacker through DNA. If you decide to have an evidence exam for court purposes, it should be done, preferably in the hospital emergency room, within 72 hours (3 days) of the assault. After 72 hours, there is less chance of finding evidence of the assault; however, a visit to the doctor is still essential for your overall health following an assault. Should you decide not to undergo an evidence exam, you can still receive a general physical examination and access to treatment for your injuries.
The victim/survivor may also ask to have a forensic examination. It should be conducted within 72 hours of the assault/abuse. 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 after the exam is completed, as this may destroy evidence. Please note, the forensic examination will only be conducted if the victim/survivor has given consent. The victim/survivor can stop the forensic exam at any time.
What is a forensic examination?
A forensic examination includes the steps listed for a medical exam, as well as the following:
- Collecting all clothing for evidence
- Taking samples of head and pubic hair
- A head to toe visual exam looking for bruises, cuts, scratches, blood stains, seminal stains, etc.
- Fingernail scrapings may be taken
- Photographs may also be taken of injuries
- Oral, rectal and vaginal swabs may be taken to examine for blood or semen
REMEMBER Sexual assault is never the fault of the victim. Victims/survivors have the right to be treated with dignity and respect at all times during the hospital visit.