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Stony Brook’s Compassionate Care for Survivors

Secluded from the frenzy of the emergency room at Stony Brook University Medical Center, lies a small, sheltered room where victims of sexual assault can now receive immediate, confidential and compassionate treatment from a trained forensic nurse examiner.

This room is part of the new Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, or SANE Center, opened at the Stony Brook Medical Center in May and works collaboratively with the Victims Information Bureau of Suffolk, or VIBS, the Suffolk County Police Department, the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office and Stony Brook University. The program offers survivors medical, emotional and legal assistance.

According to Jenny Hwang, the associate dean and director of Counseling and Psychological Services, the University has made efforts to bring the program to Stony Brook over the last 10 years.

‘These centers are critical because they provide victims of sexual assault with a resource where they can receive medical care and undergo an exam to collect forensic evidence in an environment where they are supported by nurses who are specially trained not only to be sensitive to the needs of victims but also serve as expert witnesses in criminal cases,” Hwang said.

According to Michelle Tepper, a SANE, victims are brought up from the emergency room where a SANE, along with a volunteer Emergency Room Companion “initiate the beginning of the healing process.”

Tepper prefers to refer to victims as survivors. She feels that victim prolongs recovery.

Exams are performed within 96 hours of the assault. Evidence is collected using New York State Evidence Collection Kit. Preventative medicines for sexually transmitted infections, HIV and pregnancy are also offered. All of this is free.

“Everything we do is the patients choice,” Tepper stressed.

According to Tepper, evidence is held at the hospital for a minimum of 30 days while the survivor can contemplate police involvement.

“Going to a SANE center does not mean you have to report,” Smita Majumdar Das, the Wo/Men’s and Gender Resource Center coordinator at Stony Brook emphasized. “We are hoping if the survivor goes to the center, an environment that is very supporting, it might higher the chances of reporting.”

According to a 2005 National Institute of Justice Report, less than five percent of completed and attempted rapes of college students are brought to the attention of campus authorities or law enforcement.

Before SANE centers were established, in many cases sexual assault victims would be left waiting in busy emergency rooms because they weren’t at the top of the priority list, Tepper explained. But, now because of these centers the patients are screened quickly and released to the SANE for the exam.

Judy Specht, a pioneering Long Island SANE, witnessed a situation like the one Tepper described.

“I was working in the emergency department  and a sexual assault victim came in,” Specht said. “She was not my patient and it was very busy…many critical events occurring concurrently. Hours later, I walked past where she was sitting and she was still there crying…never seen.”

The same week, Specht found a flyer advertising a talk about the SANE Program. After contacting the speaker, Specht flew to Tulsa, OK., the hometown of the program which was established in 1991.  Specht first became a SANE in 1997, even before there was a program in Suffolk County.

“Although I did collect evidence in the emergency department, it was not accepted by all. Many doctors and administrators were skeptical that nurses should, could do this work,” Specht said. “I met with VIBS, the Assistant District Attorney and the Police and we opened a program at Good Samaritan Hospital in 1999. It quickly became evident to the crime lab, the police and the emergency department that this was a program that works.”

On the West side of campus, sexual assault education seems to be more prevalent than ever before with peer education groups focusing on sexual assault prevention and Rape Aggression Defense courses offered by the University Police.

“The University has been working with the VIBS to offer a Sexual Violence Prevention Certificate program where students can learn how to prevent sexual violence,”  Hwang said.

Education is provided during orientation and in SBU101 sections, specifically focused on the importance of bystander intervention.

Even with the prevention education, on campuses assaults still do occur. According to a Campus Alert update on the Hofstra University website, a female student had been sexually assaulted early Sunday morning.

According to a police report, five men sexually assaulted the student in a men’s room of a residence hall. Four of the five suspects, one of whom is a Hofstra student, were arrested for rape and other charges.

Both Tepper and Specht want survivors to know that they have options and people do care.

“Tell someone-a friend, family member, roommate,” Specht said. “If at all possible, do not wash, shower, change sheets, change clothing, brush teeth. Attempt to maintain all trace evidence. I have had assailants convicted with just the DNA from some saliva on an ear! A shower would have destroyed that possibility.”

*Note: The article was published before it was known the Hofstra rape case was fabricated.

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