Sexual assault: You don’t have to deal with it alone

Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program returns to PVH’s emergency room, providing one more location in northern Colorado for help.
May 2nd, 2017

Victims of sexual assault now have another location to get the help they need when the unthinkable happens.

Two nurses show a special exam room at UCHealth Poudre Valley Hospital that is designed for sexual assualt survivors.
Registered Nurse Christine Foote-Lucero, top, one of almost a dozen UCHealth SANE nurses in northern Colorado, and Elyse Diewald, regional coordinator for the UCHealth SANE program in the SANE exam room within Poudre Valley Hospital’’s new emergency room.

UCHealth’s Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program is once again available at Poudre Valley Hospital’s emergency room.

SANE nurses provide adult and pediatric medical examinations, using compassionate and evidence-based methods, for patients who have experienced sexual assault.  The medical exam is performed only after a patient provides consent. The exam involves a physical exam, collection of forensic evidence and patient history. Additionally, patients receive community resources.

Twenty years ago, the program launched at PVH. After Medical Center of the Rockies opened in 2007, the program moved to MCR because the hospital is more centrally located for Weld, Boulder and Larimer counties. Then in 2015, the program expanded into UCHealth’s freestanding Emergency Room on Harmony Road in Fort Collins. It expanded again on Feb. 26, 2017, returning to PVH with the opening of its new ER.

Although the number of sexual assaults has decreased nationally in the past year, UCHealth’s SANE nurses in northern Colorado have seen a 30 percent increase in SANE visits during the first quarter of 2017 over the previous year, according to registered nurse Elyse Diewald, coordinator for the UCHealth SANE program in northern Colorado.

“I think the increase in patients is due to better awareness and access to SANE services,” Diewald said. “We now have designated space for SANE exams at three of our northern Colorado emergency rooms, making it more accessible for those who find themselves in need.”

UCHealth’s Longs Peak Hospital, opening summer 2017 in Longmont, also will have SANE services in its Emergency Department.

Not only do they provide medical care and treatment following an assault, but SANE nurses also “help victims get connected to the right people whether they choose to report the assault to law enforcement or whether they work with confidential community resources such as SAVA (Sexual Assault Victim Advocate Center) or WGAC (Women and Gender Advocacy Center),” Diewald said. “What’s important is to make sure they get the medical care and access to resources that they need.”

There are long-term medical risks following a sexual assault, so early intervention is important to reduce those risks, she explained.

Elyse Diewald, coordinator of the UCHealth sexual assault program called SANE looks in a piece of equipment called a colposcope which is used to collect evidence after a sexual assualt.
Elyse Diewald, coordinator for the UCHealth SANE program in northern Colorado, demonstrates the use of a colposcope that’’s attached to a camera, which is used to collect evidence after a sexual assault.

“We do a head-to-toe physical exam so that they know their body is going to be OK. And we let them know about resources so they know how to go forward from there and understand they are not alone,” she said. “There are so many things you have to do alone, but dealing with sexual assault is not one of them.”

There are different reporting options for victims, from working with police to staying anonymous. A 2015 bill clarified Colorado’s medical-mandated reporting statute, giving victims an anonymous reporting option in an effort to cut down on the number of victims who don’t seek help.

“They can remain anonymous with police, and we can do the exam while they are figuring out what they want to do,” Diewald said. “There is so much going on acutely following an assault and it is helpful that they don’t have to make all of the decisions regarding reporting right away but can still receive immediate medical care as well as evidence collection. That keeps a lot of door open.”

Evidence can be collected up to seven days after an assault. This is a new change for the program, and is possible because of updated DNA testing capabilities at Colorado Bureau of Investigation.

This photo shows a consent forms sexual assault survivors fill out to allow sexual assualt nurse examiners to collect evidence.
The medical SANE exam is performed with the consent of the patient to include a physical exam, forensic evidence collection and patient history.

From a legal standpoint, it’s important to collect forensic evidence from the victim, she explained. Even if the victim doesn’t want to work with police, the information from the exam can be used by police to help keep others safe. And sometimes, the victim changes their mind later. Diewald said she’s had victims reconnect with her two years after an exam to seek community and law enforcement resources.

But the most important information Diewald wants victims to know?

“It’s not your fault. No matter what you do, it doesn’t give them permission to sexually assault you,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if you’ve already showered or if it’s been three or five days, come in. We will not judge you; we will not blame you — we are here to help.”

For more information about the SANE program in northern Colorado, call one of UCHealth’s ERs in northern Colorado and ask for the on-call SANE nurse, or email SANE Coordinator Elyse Diewald at elyse.diewald@uchealth.org. Contact the PVH ER at 970.495.8020, Harmony ER at 970.237.8100, or MCR ER at 970.624.2500.