Shortage of Sexual Assault Nurses Could Impact Victims

 In Nurses Weekly

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The shortage of Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners, or SANE nurses, is a widespread problem. Survivors of sexual assault say SANE nurses are critical to the journey of healing.

Several years ago, Lauren Ratcliffe’s life changed forever.

“I was raped in my apartment in Charlotte,” Ratcliffe said.

After the attack, she went to an emergency department in Charlotte. She was told she’d have to wait for her rape kit to be administered. Her nurse, called a SANE, was across town helping another sexual assault victim.

“We’re not talking, I was waiting a half hour or anything like that, which I would’ve expected,” Ratcliffe said. “This was many, many hours sitting in an exam room, waiting.”

It’s a disturbing reality for many people who survive rape, only to find that getting the proper medical exam is a challenge.

“We don’t have 24/7 coverage right now,” Kelly Moriarty, Trauma Injury Prevention Coordinator and SANE nurse at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center, said.

While Ratcliffe’s experience was not with Novant Health, the group says they experience similar challenges.

“The nurses do need special training, there’s also a lack of funding in a lot of hospitals and medical centers that don’t necessarily support having SANE nurses or they don’t have a lot full time,” Moriarty said.

According to the International Association of Forensic Nurses, only 17 to 20% of American hospitals have SANES on staff. The worst shortages are in large rural communities. It’s support that’s desperately needed for victims.

“The way that she cared was evident, SANE nurses are an incredible advocate for victims and survivors,” Ratcliffe said.

“Meet them where they are, allowing them to learn back trust of people,” Moriarty said.

The state of North Carolina has made efforts to improve access. Attorney General Josh Stein continues to push for more training.

“It’s very important that we have more of these SANE nurses,” Stein said.

Still, there’s more work to be done.

“Having nurses that are trained and compassionate is critical, so the shortage of SANE nurses is a disservice to victims,” Ratcliffe said.

Novant Health is actively working to expand its team of SANE nurses.

Meanwhile, North Carolina has made some headway in reducing the number of untested rape kits, but there’s still a backlog allowing some rapists to remain free.

But for Ratcliffe, her attacker is behind bars and she’s rebuilt her life. Turning her pain into purpose.

“If I can help one other survivor feel less alone, more compelled to feel brave and take their life back, then it’s been worth it,” Ratcliffe said.

But for many people in North Carolina, their story isn’t the same.

An audit back in 2019 revealed North Carolina had a backlog of about 16,000 rape kits, since then more than 8,900 kits have been tested.

But the latest data shows in Mecklenburg County, 452 still need DNA testing.

“For people who were violated and gave evidence over to the criminal system, what we owe them is their best efforts to find whoever hurt them,” Stein said.

Stein says they’re currently working to pursue the evidence and bring justice to everyone.

“We’ve changed the law so that local law enforcement agencies no longer keep these kits, that when there’s a reported sexual assault they forward them to a lab within 45 days, and then we have been working with the legislator to make sure we have enough scientists at the state crime lab to test the kits that we get in,” Stein said.

“I do find myself to be incredibility fortunate that my attacker was caught, there was DNA evidence that linked him to me,” Ratcliffe said. “My heart breaks for victims that are waiting.”

Stein told WCNC Charlotte they’re on a path to fully eliminate the backlog at the end of this year or the beginning of next.

(This story originally appeared in WCNC.)

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