The key is having specially trained Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners, or SANE nurses, on call to examine assault victims in the emergency room, for forensic as well as medical purposes.
The SANE concept began in 1976 in Memphis, Tenn. Since then it has expanded across the country because of its many advantages over the usual emergency room handling of rape cases.
Rape victims have to compete for attention with patients suffering heart attacks, trauma, drug overdoses and so on. Lack of exclusive attention to the rape victim can result in frustration, feelings of abandonment, and in errors in the handling of evidence.
SANE nurses say it takes an average of about three hours to complete their examination, which underscores the possibility of regular ER staff making a mistake considering the whirlwind of priorities competing for their attention.
SANE nurses undergo rigorous training in what questions to ask the victim, the necessary procedures for obtaining, documenting and preserving physical evidence, while ensuring that the victim’s immediate needs are met.
Tasks that would otherwise be handled by law enforcement – getting a detailed account of the incident, a personal history of the victim and perhaps the suspect, securing and preserving clothing and other evidence – can all be done by SANEs.
The Lafayette chapter of Hearts of Hope, which sponsors the SANE program in this area, also provides volunteer advocates for victims from the time they are seen by a SANE nurse through adjudication of the case, providing emotional support and referring the victim to the appropriate community services.
It’s expected to cost $650 per case, not counting emergency room fees. Based on a projected count of 30 cases per year, the program would cost about $23,400 at year.
Chester Cedars, chief assistant district attorney, said he would approach DA Phil Haney with a plan to request funding from municipal and parish governments and report the progress of this initiative at the next SART meeting on March 11.
Renee Hoffpauir, victims coordinator with the DA’s office, suggested also using certain fees collected from convicted sex offenders through the state Probation and Parole Office