Alumnus Finds His Calling as a Trusted Advocate for Sexual Assault Victims

When a victim of sexual assault arrives at a Nebraska Medicine hospitals, having a trusted, trained advocate waiting for them can make a world of difference.

Nebraska Medicine now has more nurses trained to care for these victims, with plans to add even more. Kalen Knight ('16) became the first nurse supervisor dedicated to the SANE (Sexual Assault Nurses Examiner) program in April.

“We historically have employed 11 SANE nurses, we currently have 18 with the goal of getting to 30,” Knight says.

SANE nurses are trained in forensics. Their training teaches them how to care for victims of sexual assault, walk them through their options and collect evidence, if victim consents.

“SANE nurses are taught on how to collect evidence, take photographs and how to conduct an interview using a trauma-informed approach,” says Knight.

This technique is incredibly important as this information must be performed in a standardized way in order to be allowed into court evidence, if a victim decides to do that. A key part of that involves collecting the evidence within five days of the assault, and maintaining chain of custody, according to Knight. The nurses are also experts in mandatory reporting laws, and can explain to the victim their four options in Nebraska:

  • Provide a full report with law enforcement and identify as a victim
  • Provide a partial report, which involves identifying as a victim but not involving law enforcement
  • Provide an anonymous report, where a SANE nurse collects evidence but law enforcement is not involved. A victim has 20 years to decide if they want to press charges
  • Request medical treatment only, where the victim is treated for any injuries and potential sexually transmitted infections

“We are the bridge between health care and the legal system,” explains Knight.

This past year, the increased staffing of SANE nurses allowed us to offer this expert care at Bellevue Medical Center and through telehealth to Mary Lanning Hospital in Hastings, Nebraska, in April and Faith Regional Hospital in Norfolk, Nebraska, late last year. Using telehealth, a SANE nurse will consult with the patient’s primary nurse and also speak to the patient through a video monitor to conduct an interview and explain reporting options.

“If a patient consents, we will talk the nurse through evidence collection,” he says.

By this fall, Knight expects to offer 24/7 SANE nurse coverage. The program also plans to respond to victims of domestic violence, intimate partner violence, human trafficking and elder abuse once staffing reaches 30 nurses.

“Sexual assault victims are in a very sensitive state after experiencing a trauma like this,” says Knight. “Our SANE nurses work with them one-on-one to give them their autonomy back after their right to choose was taken from them. We want to do everything we can to care for them, but to also ensure the best outcome in case they decide to pursue legal options.”

“It's vital we have 24-hour SANE coverage because when our sexual assault patients present to the Emergency Department, they are in absolute crisis,” says Cynthia Hernandez, MD, Emergency Medicine and medical director of SANE. “The last thing they should worry about is receiving anything less than extraordinary and compassionate medical care. Our SANEs are highly educated and able to provide emotional support to this unique set of patients. They are trained to collect forensic evidence, which is instrumental in the prosecution of violent sexual crimes in our community. I am incredibly proud of our team and the work they do each and every day.” 

If you’re interested in learning more about becoming a SANE nurse, check out this helpful website on forensic nursing. Upon hire into the SANE Program, nurses must complete the following:

  • 40 hours of online training through the International Association of Forensic Nurses
  • 3-day didactic course with the SANE team
  • Six months of shadowing a SANE nurse

This article was reposted with permission from the Nebraska Medicine Communications team.