Featuring VON’s Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Program April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

April is Sexual Assault Awareness month. During the month, individuals and organizations across Canada raise awareness about sexual violence, how to prevent it and how to support individuals who are affected by it. 

In Nova Scotia, VON has a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program. It is comprised of 15 registered nurses with training that makes them uniquely qualified to provide comprehensive medical, forensic and psycho-social care for people who have experienced sexual assault. The unit is on call 24/7, 365 days a year. When needed, they respond in pairs to the Cumberland, Colchester and Musquodoboit hospitals. They meet with individuals of all genders who present themselves to the ER department asking to see a SANE nurse. These nurses also speak to individuals on a toll-free number when the victim wishes only to speak with a SANE nurse. 

SANE nurses provide confidential care that respects clients’ individual wishes. Victims may seek medical treatment only, when they do not want to report to police. Treatments may include: antibiotics to prevent sexually transmitted infections, emergency contraception, bloodwork, HIV meds if indicated, head-to-toe assessments and x-rays. Those who choose may receive medical treatment along with the collection of forensic evidence in a forensic kit. This might include collecting evidence via swabs, photographs, blue (CSI) light, blood and urine. Victims then have a choice of turning the kit over directly to the police, or having the SANE unit store the kit for six months while the victim decides if they want to report the assault. 

The SANE program was launched over 20 years ago in Halifax through the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre. Before SANE, police would bring the SAEK (Sexual Assault Evidence Kit) to the hospital and stand outside the curtain while the kit was done. Now, clients are taken to a quiet room and allowed the time and space to make choices and decide whether a kit is required or not. 

This year’s Sexual Assault Awareness theme is: “Drawing Connections: Prevention Demands Equity.” The focus is on building racial equity and respect, recognizing that providing all groups with the same resources may not allow each group to thrive with equity.