Reaching and treating rural victims of sexual assault

Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Female clinician swabs the neck of a female patient in this stock photo.

An expansion of training provides much-needed care for rape survivors

Rural hospitals across the country face obstacles when it comes to providing access to care to the population they serve – and continually come up with innovative solutions to ensure their patients receive the services they need. Thanks to a federal grant, Vanderbilt University Medical Center is aiming to provide care for women at one of the darkest times in their lives.

The Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program, which began in Memphis, Tenn. in 1976, trains nurses to administer rape kit examinations to people who have survived a rape or sexual assault. While providers don’t have to be trained to administer the exams, SANE-trained nurses receive specialized training on conducting the forensic exam with a special emphasis on trauma-informed care. A 2008 study funded by the National Institute of Justice even found that examinations done by SANE-trained nurses were more likely to move through the criminal justice system because the evidence collected was of a higher quality than those conducted by providers in emergency or other departments.

Still, Tennessee faced a major problem: Many rape survivors from rural areas often had to travel hours to a location that had a SANE-trained nurse. Such a delay was not only traumatic for the patient, who often had to be transported for miles in a police vehicle, but the evidence of a sexual assault degrades as time passes. Katrina Brown, who now heads the SANE program at VUMC, has overseen the expansion of SANE training across Middle Tennessee. With the nearly $500,000 federal grant, VUMC plans on training 90 SANE providers; expand access in rural clinics; and fund training for a clinic specializing in LGBTQ+ health.

Hospitals and health systems see many people experiencing some of the lowest moments of their lives, stepping up to provide the care that their patients deserve. Thanks to programs like SANE, more people will benefit from specialized training that ensures the next level of care.

Resources on the Role of Hospitals