A recent article from NBC News unveiled a tool allowing survivors of sexual assault to search for trained sexual assault nurse examiners (SANE) in their area. Sexual assault forensic exams, also called rape kits, are an important tool in collecting evidence to support arrest and conviction of the perpetrator. However, not all medical professionals are specially trained in performing these forensic exams.
What is a SANE?
A sexual assault nurse examiner, according to RAINN, is a “Registered Nurse who has received special training so that s/he can provide comprehensive care to sexual assault victims. In addition s/he is able to conduct a forensic exam and may provide expert testimony if a case goes to trial.”
A piece published on NBCNews.com, however, points out that there is a nationwide shortage of SANEs. Turnover is high, and many hospitals lack the funding and resources to keep trained nurses on staff. Kim Nash, a forensic nursing specialist at the International Association of Forensic Nurses, points out, “We know of between 800 and 900 sexual assault nurse examiner programs in the United States. And while that sounds like a lot, when you look at how many hospitals there are, there are over 6,000.”
Further, there is no national database or list of where SANEs are available. NBC spoke to government agencies, attorney general offices, coalitions against sexual assault, and trained examiners across the country to build a national map of SANEs. Their interactive map can be found here, but here is some local information, generated directly from the online tool:
- Washington, D.C. has a government-created Sexual Assault Response Team that coordinates victim crisis services. Most sexual assault forensic exams in D.C. are done at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, which has a private exam suite and partners with the nonprofit D.C. Forensic Nurse Examiners to provide care. Nurses can also be dispatched to another hospital if a patient cannot be moved. Through a partnership with the D.C. Department of Health, the nonprofit started offering free SANE training for nurses in the city in 2019.
- In Maryland, exams are mostly done by on-call nurses at hospitals. A few hospitals currently offer limited services and do not always have a nurse available, though they are working to expand capacity and collaborate with other programs. Nurses must be certified as forensic nurse examiners by the state Board of Nursing to conduct sexual assault forensic exams. The board does not automatically recognize examiners trained elsewhere and has its own specific requirements for certification. Under a 2014 law, all Maryland hospitals with ERs are required to have a plan for providing care or transport to the nearest SANE program.
- The best way to find exam providers and other resources in West Virginia is to contact a local rape crisis center, mapped by what counties they serve. Under a 2014 law, every county in the state must have a written plan for where sexual assault forensic exams are conducted and how to transport patients to that location. Counties that do not yet have a plan are working with the state Sexual Assault Forensic Examination Commission to create one. The commission is also in the process of creating a map of those locations. West Virginia has 12 crisis centers covering the state’s 55 counties which know the plans for every county they serve.
Victims of sexual assault may also call the National Sexual Assault Hotline: