Until recently, sexual assault victims in the Valley had a choice: make the trek to Grand Junction or Frisco in order to obtain the medical exam often necessary for effective legal action or forgo that option. Valley View Hospital ended its Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Program in 2012, leaving a void that could make someone’s worst day worse.
Fortunately, the Mountain West SANE Alliance (MWSA) has replaced that loss. As of Jan. 1, the River Bridge Regional Center, a child advocacy space in Glenwood Springs, will administer the mostly adult program. MWSA also partners with Garfield County Public Health in Rifle, where nurses currently perform exams. While it continues to grow — there will be a Glenwood Springs exam facility later in the year — one of its remaining challenges is public awareness.
“The services here are underused by the community,” said Valerie Curry, a seasoned Intensive Care Unit nurse who recently underwent training to join MWSA’s crew. “There are a lot of reasons [for that]. A lot of people still think there is no program in our area. people are afraid to engage with law enforcement. It’s psychologically terrifying to talk about [assault] — to talk about it with law enforcement is even scarier.”
There are a plethora of myths surrounding protocol for reporting sexual assault and proper care, which is why one of the organization’s goals is education in addition to providing medical follow-up services, River Bridge Medical Provider Kelley Hill said, who also works as one of the four SANE-certified practitioners with MWSA.
Myth: In order to receive care, a victim must file a police report
The best way to receive medical services is to call Garfield County dispatch (970-625-8095), but that does not mean a victim needs to file a report or even offer identification.
“If they call dispatch, they don’t have to give their name,” Hill said. “Call dispatch and just say they need to speak to a nurse; that’s all they need to do.” If a nurse is available, he or she will speak with a victim immediately via phone to make arrangements moving forward.
While MWSA is available to answer calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week, that doesn’t mean a nurse will be immediately available to perform an exam; however, with six nurses undergoing training to more-than double the current number of trained forensic nurses, access to that specialized medical care will only continue to increase in the most timely manner possible.
Myth: A SANE exam must be performed within 24 hours to be effective
The suggested timetable for a victim to receive a SANE exam after an incident, according to the Colorado Evidence Collection Protocol, is 120 hours — five days. But how quickly somebody seeks an exam largely depends on that person’s intentions, Hill and Curry said.
“If I can get them in the next five days to do this, then there’s options,” Hill said of giving a SANE exam. Often, she said, victims don’t know in the immediate aftermath of an assault if they intend to pursue a legal case against their offender or if they simply want to ensure their health. “It’s about what they want. But if we don’t collect that evidence, then we don’t have it.”
While five days is the recommended limit for receiving a SANE exam, if a victim does want to pursue legal action, sooner is better, Curry said. “If it is about evidence collection, it really should be immediate,” she said, “because there is DNA evidence that is lost in showering.”
Not all exams are about evidence collection, however, though that is a benefit of having a trained forensic nurse perform the exam. “That’s one of the aspects of being trained as SANE, you provide that expert witness testimony in courts,” Hill said.
For those not wanting to pursue legal options, MWSA exists to ensure a victim’s health, providing immediate medication for preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
Myth: Sexual assault kits are expensive and often go unprocessed anyway
This one is tricky, because across the country, there are myriad cases of overwhelmed district attorneys’ offices unable to keep up with caseload in this regard. That shouldn’t deter someone from receiving care — especially in Colorado.
“Law enforcement has to submit [a sexual assault kit] within 21 days in Colorado,” Hill said, noting that a SANE program creates accountability around ensuring that mandate is met.
Additionally, Colorado statute requires that no victim pay for a SANE exam. If a victim goes through the hospital instead of MWSA directly, that person will likely receive a bill for services beyond the actual sexaul assault exam — but that doesn’t necessarily mean he or she has to pay it. The Crime Victims Compensation application can be found online at colorado.gov/pacific/dcj/Vic_Comp.
“I’ve told people that have gone to the ER, ‘You’re going to get a bill. Don’t pay it, [but] don’t ignore it. You do have to do some things, but it is possible that that bill will be covered,’” Hill said.