What does a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner do?

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  • Written By: Lainie Petersen
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 25 November 2019
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A sexual assault nurse examiner specializes in caring for victims of sexual assault and gathering evidence that can be used in the pursuit and prosecution of their assailants. Nurses who serve as sexual assault nurse examiners undergo rigorous training in forensic nursing and sexual assault issues. They frequently work in emergency rooms and in other medical settings in which sexual assault victims are likely to be treated. In the course of their work, they typically complete a rape kit as part of their care for victims, and may be called upon to testify in court as to their findings.

In many areas, including the United States, laws often require that the gathering of evidence for sexual assault take place in hospital emergency rooms. The emergency rooms are equipped with what are known as rape kits, which include various receptacles for the collection of physical evidence from the body of a rape victim. When sexual assault victims are brought to the hospital, they are treated for any injuries sustained during the assault and are also offered the option of the rape kit so that evidence can be preserved for use by law enforcement. Rape kits can take a long time to complete, which presents difficulties in an emergency room atmosphere in which doctors and nurses are often needed to treat urgent medical situations. A traumatized rape victim may be required to wait many hours before receiving treatment, and the completion of the rape kit may be frequently interrupted as doctors and nurses are called to attend critically ill or injured patients.

Out of concern for the well-being of sexual assault victims, the role of sexual assault nurse examiner was developed. These nurses receive special training in the completion of rape kits, forensic medical equipment, and other medical issues specific to sexual assault trauma. In many hospitals, a sexual assault nurse examiner is always on call for the treatment of victims brought to the hospital. Once the sexual assault nurse examiner begins working with the victim, he remains with the victim until the rape kit and any necessary treatment is completed.

Laws governing the practice of a sexual assault nurse examiner vary by jurisdiction, with some restricting sexual assault nurse examiners to working with adult victims unless they have had specific training in pediatric nursing. The laws also may restrict a sexual assault nurse examiner's ability to diagnose specific conditions unless the nurse examiner is a licensed nurse practitioner. Nurse examiners are often regarded as expert witnesses in court, and if the case of one of their patients goes to trial, they will be asked to give testimony as to their findings.

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