Nova Scotia SANE services support those who have experienced sexual assault

Two Nurses from VON's SANE program

Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs) are registered nurses (RNs) with specialized training and education to care for patients who have experienced sexual assault or abuse. 

The SANE program includes services, provided in response to a disclosure of sexual assault, that are requested by the client. Services are available to all genders and ages. SANEs can provide immediate medical care, and can identify and document injuries, collect evidence, provide testimony in court, consult with legal authorities and offer supportive care and follow-up.

The SANE program is administered by Nova Scotia Health and delivered by contracted service providers like VON.
VON offers 24/7 SANE services at the:
•    Colchester East Hants Health Centre in Truro,
•    the Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre in Amherst, and
•    the Musquodoboit Valley Memorial Hospital in the Eastern Shores region

We asked two VON SANE nurses to talk about their unique area of practice:


What is unique about your area of nursing? What skills and characteristics do SANE nurses need to bring to this practice? 

The SANE program is unique in the way that it bridges a gap between the medical field and the forensic field. Nurses use their medical skills to complete assessments and provide medical care, but they also have special training in order to collect forensic evidence, and take forensic photos for someone who has been a victim of sexual assault. At times, we engage in the legal system by handing over evidence to police or by testifying in court. 

SANEs often enter the role because they have a strong interest in sexual health and women’s health. SANEs practice through a trauma-informed lens in which they give power and control back to the victim. Being able to communicate therapeutically and effectively in a non-judgemental way is important. The most helpful thing you can say to a victim is that you believe them. 

Although SANEs need strong assessment skills, and strong attention to detail, a victim is not going to walk away feeling positive about the process; they are going to walk away and say that their nurse made them feel safe and believed.
-    VON SANE Brittany Jury


SANEs are practicing forensic nursing. It is a specialized nursing practice that integrates clinical nursing skills, knowledge of the criminal justice system, and forensic science principles. SANEs are interested in the intersectionality of healthcare and the criminal justice system and we provide trauma-informed care for individuals who have experienced violence or crime, such as sexual assault, domestic violence, or abuse, and play a critical role in evidence collection and documentation. 

SANEs balance both the art and the science of nursing. The art of our nursing practice is the ability to use our emotional intelligence and be aware of our own feelings and of others, to be able to "read the room" and identify what a person is going through and explain conditions and treatment in the way they understand. 

The science of our nursing is evidence-based practice. We are responsible for conducting forensic examinations, documenting injuries and medical histories, collecting and preserving evidence, providing expert testimony in court, and offering emotional support and resources to individuals who have experienced trauma due to crime or violence. 
- VON SANE Karen Fowler


What keeps you motivated in your role at VON? 

We are seeing people at their most traumatized and vulnerable times, and having the privilege of being able to help them feel safe and provide care is rewarding. Victims leave thanking the SANEs despite the traumatizing situations that have brought them in. But it’s not just victims that are thankful for our service, medical staff and police are appreciative that we have this special training and time to be able to provide this care to sexual assault victims. Before SANE, it would have been a doctor and nurse, with police collecting the evidence, leaving everyone feeling very uncomfortable as well as the client being re-traumatized. So from victims, to medical staff, to police, we do feel like we make a difference in supporting victims of sexual assault.
-    VON SANE Brittany Jury


The motivation to be a VON SANE is the fact that as a nurse, I finally see that the system is supporting us to provide the empathetic and compassionate care that is needed for those who have experienced sexual and domestic violence and abuse. We are one part of a system that is becoming more integrated. The systems have been in silos too long, and as nurses we know that true holistic care comes from being part of a larger team. In 1984 I wanted to be a SANE. I have been one since 2020 and I would like to continue with this until I cannot anymore. My nursing career has seen a lot of changes. This is the most important one to me. 
-    VON SANE Karen Fowler