Untrained Nurses Are Another Obstacle to Ever Prosecuting Rapists

A program called SANE teaches Illinois nurses how to perform rape kits, and how to testify if they're called as a witness in a rape case. But very few of the state's nurses have gone through the program, because it takes so much time and hospital funds. And this lack of trained professionals is yet another hurdle victims have to clear if they want their rapists to go to jail.

According to Neil Steinberg of the Chicago Sun-Times, just two of Chicago's over 200 hospitals participate in SANE. Michelle Ruther, emergency department nurse manager at Loyola University Medical Center, explains why her hospital doesn't participate:

There's just not a community need for it. We don't get the amount of rape cases here you'd think. The program itself is nice. You go through how to talk to these people, to help with the grieving process. It's a really great program, and we'd love to have it at Loyola if they could make the requirements less stringent.

The program does take about a week, with additional clinical training afterwards, which means hospitals need to find replacements for nurses during that time. But SANE coordinator Shannon Liew says, "The reasons we hear from hospitals is that one hospital might get 40 victims a year, and they say we can't create a program around 40 patients. I believe every single patient every single time deserves the best possible care they can at a hospital." Not only does every patient deserve someone trained to handle their case — hospitals might actually see more rape victims if they had SANE programs in place. An Urbana hospital that participates in the program saw 125 last year. It's possible that victims are avoiding hospitals that don't have nurses trained in rape trauma, and even possible that, if they know nurses at their local hospital aren't trained, they may not report their rapes at all. Rape survivor Katie Feifer's story reveals how confusing and traumatic it can be to go through a rape exam with an untrained examiner:

A resident came in, and had this rape kit, and started opening envelopes and vials. He was fumbling around and he was very, very nervous. He did a pelvic exam, and kept apologizing. ‘I'm sorry I have to do this. I'm sorry. I'm sorry.'

I remember feeling I had to comfort him and make him feel OK. This guy was supposed to be examining me and helping me, and he didn't know what he was doing.

Going to a hospital and getting a rape kit done is just one of the many ordeals victims to have to go through if they ever want to see their attackers face justice. If we want to catch rapists and reduce the risk of assault for everyone, we need to make that process as easy as possible. That includes giving the people who do the rape kits the training they need. A few other states have adopted SANE-like programs with success — but that doesn't help victims in Illinois. Federal and state governments have an interest in preventing rape and successfully prosecuting rapists. Maybe they need to step in and mandate SANE — and pay for it. That way victims would know that the people who supposedly want them to report their rapes are willing to actually help them do it.

Neil Steinberg: Rape victims get short shrift in Illinois [Chicago Sun-Times]

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