Nine specially trained nurses at the Medical University of South Carolina have worn on-call pagers and have come in on their days off to treat suspected rape victims.
They have cared for 145 adult women and men over the past year, and law enforcement officials expect to see an increase in arrests and prosecutions as a result of their work. Hospital leaders joined with 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson on Tuesday to discuss the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners program, an internationally recognized certification commonly called SANE.
Wilson shared this sobering statistic: Nationally, only 17 percent of criminal sexual assault cases are successfully prosecuted. This program helps boost that rate, studies show.
"Having a patient well cared-for at the outset contributes to our success," Wilson said.
That's because the body breaks down DNA evidence quickly. Wilson said some cases could have had different results if nurses collected that DNA faster and under stricter guidelines.
"What's important, from our standpoint is every minute matters," she said.
The program relies on state funding, and MUSC also plans to pursue grant money, according to John Sanders, administrator of MUSC's Children's Hospital. He said that he didn't yet know the program's annual cost but that other local hospitals agreed to help cover any gaps in service.
At MUSC, Sanders said, administrators continue to look for more nurses who want the training and who could travel to other hospitals to treat potential victims.
Marianna Flynn, program coordinator at MUSC, said treatment works like this: When a suspected sexual assault victim arrives at the hospital, staff pages the on-call trained nurse, who must arrive within 50 minutes.
The hospital also alerts the local group People Against Rape to send an advocate to the hospital. The nurse and the advocate then become the only two specialists working with the suspected victim -- the first and only faces the patient sees.
"They're not going to have to tell their stories to three medical interns and four residents before they get to the attending physician," Flynn explained.
The nurse examines the patient for injuries, then collects evidence in a specific Sexual Assault Evidence Collection kit to send to the S.C. Law Enforcement Division. The nurse also administers medications to prevent pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
"They are validated, examined for injuries and given medications," Flynn said. "Hopefully, healing can start happening right during in the ER."
The process takes about four hours on average, according to Flynn. A trained nurse also would appear in court as a witness, if the case proceeds to prosecution. But sexual assault cases historically prove very difficult to try, Flynn noted.
"For every case we handle," she said, "there are others that never come forward."