Sexual Assault Nurse Program Planned For Tuscaloosa

Jul 26, 2017

A national news story may help to spark change in Tuscaloosa. Work is underway to offer a new service following the suicide of former University of Alabama student Megan Rondini. APR Student reporter Katie Willem has more on the program called SANE…

“Have you ever seen a SANE facility before? Let’s do that. Yeah, let’s do that.”

That’s Meg McGlamery. She’s the Executive Director at the Crisis Center in Birmingham. This includes what’s called a SANE facility. SANE is short for Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner. One of the first things you notice is the art on the walls.   

Credit Katie Willem

“They’re done by survivors, and people who’ve worked with survivors, to help show people that they can get through it and that they’re not alone with what they’re feeling.”  

McGlamery walks through three initial screening rooms connected to a door that survivors of sexual assaults enter when they come to the SANE facility. There, they meet an advocate and a nurse collects evidence from the attack. After that, the client can take a shower…

“This is my favorite room of all the rooms. This is where the client can just take their time. They can take a long shower. We bring in new clothing for them so they can leave with dignity and respect. They are not identified as a victim when they leave here.”

The facility runs as a nonprofit, and had seen over four thousand people from 2002 to late 2016. McGlamery explains why the facility stays open despite the high expense.

“It’s too important. There was a time where we really had to consider: it’s a hard program to run, because it’s expensive, but at the end of the day when we had to look at what to do to keep it going, our board, our community, they’re behind us 100 percent, because we know how important it is. We’ve got to do it.”

McGlamery says there are major differences between a SANE facility and a hospital room. She says she would spend up to eight hours in the hospital with a survivor.

Separate door for survivors to use at the Crisis Center in Birmingham
Credit Katie Willem

“It makes all the difference to have someone who understands the work, understands how to be compassionate and how to be unbiased in doing that work, but still be empathetic and kind.”

Beyond the gentle treatment for survivors, there are issues of evidence collection and dealing with the trauma.

“You can’t look at someone and know that they’ve been raped.” This is Dr. Patricia Speck. Among her many titles, she is the coordinator of advanced forensic nursing at UAB. “You can look at someone and know if they’ve had a trauma.”

And the number of assaults appear alarming. A report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention says almost thirty five percent of rape survivors were first attacked between the ages of 18 and 24. The National Research Council did a study and found that eighty percent of these attacks go unreported. These groups deal with the numbers. People like Speck handle the survivors…

“So when we medicalize it, we basically tell them you’re no longer normal, when in fact they are very normal. They’re very normal. What they feel is very normal, and how they manage it, they need help, because nobody is prepared for sexual assault trauma.”

People who have experienced sexual assault need specific care in the hours after the event. This includes medical exams, evidence collection, and a strong support system. This is what SANE was created to be. Speck says the role is one comparable to a CPR technician in the Emergency Room.

“Think about it like this: in the emergency room, everyone knows CPR, but there’s going to be two or three in the emergency room that are going to actually be able to teach it and have advanced skills. They had to go and get the education in order to do that and be confirmed to be competent in that role.”

Speck says she’s seen a lot of change happen in her time studying sexual assault, especially when it comes to societal standards.

“What women my age would put up with, our daughters and granddaughters will not, and so for that I’m very grateful, but I also realize it’s not a nice world out there. That’s what kept me interested. I also felt that I was—I didn’t feel it. I saw it. Victims that came to me, left better off because I was a nurse.”

DCH Regional Medical Center partnered with community agencies to begin creating a SANE program at the end of June this year. This follows the suicide of former University of Alabama student Megan Rondini. She accused a local man of assaulting her. Megan left the University of Alabama in 2015, and took her own life seven months later. Terri Snider is the director of the emergency department at DCH as well as a registered nurse. She says the agencies working on the SANE program are currently deciding which SANE model would work best for the Tuscaloosa community.

“There’s hospital based models. There’s community based models, and the community based model seems more compassionate to the sexual assault victims because when you’ve been sexually assaulted, you certainly don’t want to have to be in the ED because you’re already traumatized. It’s loud down there So if we can get them in a place where it’s more serene, quiet, and offers them a sense of privacy, that’s kinda what we would want to do.”

Snider says the hospital currently sees around 70 to 75 assault cases every year. Already twenty-six nurses at DCH have volunteered to take classes to become SANE certified.

“The nurses that have expressed interest want to provide that care to those people. Cause a lot of times when you hear sexual assault victims talk, they’re trying to come up with reasons why, you know, I shouldn’t of done this or I shouldn’t have done that. You’ve got to reassure them ‘it’s not your fault.’ This is not your fault.”

Overall, Snider is positive that whatever program is placed in Tuscaloosa will be the right one, much like the SANE facility in Birmingham. Whoever becomes the director of the Tuscaloosa SANE facility will have to talk to survivors, and Meg McGlamery has a message they can learn from…

“The first thing that I’d want any survivor to know is that it’s not their fault. No one deserves to be hurt in this way. It doesn’t matter what you were doing or not doing, what you’re wearing or not wearing. Every person has the right to be respected, period. The second thing is, whatever they did to survive is the right thing to do. If that means that you have to comply to survive, then that is the right thing to do. You’ll talk to people and they’ll say ‘Well, if it happened to me, I would do A, B, and C. You don’t know what you’ll do until you’re in that situation. So it’s really important that survivors get that message. Whatever they did to survive, right thing to do. And that we believe them. We believe them.”

Note left by someone who toured the SANE facility in Birmingham
Credit Katie Willem

Editor's note: DCH Hospital says 16 nurses have signed up for Tuscaloosa area SANE training, not the 26 as reported.