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How Advocates Can Help with a Sexual Assault Examination

Kelly Ferriell, Youth Advocacy Supervisor

As Sexual Assault Awareness Month ends, Prevail recognizes that sexual violence does not. About 35% of the population served by Prevail are survivors of sexual assault. Did you know that we are classified as a Rape Crisis Center (RCC)? In order to be classified as a RCC in Indiana, an agency must provide specific services including:

  • Having a mission to provide service to individuals who are impacted by sexual violence
  • Employing staff dedicated to working with individuals who are impacted by sexual violence
  • Operating a 24/7 Crisis Line
  • Prioritizes confidentiality and safety in the services provided
  • Providing support at the hospital when an individual is seeking medical care after experiencing a sexual assault

Prevail provides these services, along with many more, every day. As an advocate, I seek opportunities to collaborate with others to create a team of support for individuals impacted by sexual violence. One of these unique opportunities is when someone presents at the emergency department of a local hospital after experiencing a sexual assault. 

Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs) are trained to provide medical and forensic services and often partner with an advocate to provide support during the exam process. As described in a previous blog post, sexual assault exams provide the opportunity for an individual to make choices regarding their physical well-being and health. Each step is optional. An advocate’s role in these situations is to meet the survivor where they are. Advocates provide emotional support, link survivors to practical needs and on-going support, and ensure they are informed of their rights. 

 

Empowerment and choice are so imperative for survivors. It is important that the person seeking medical care (or a parent/guardian if the individual is a minor) controls the process, not the SANE, DCS, law enforcement, or the advocate. I seek to ensure no one feels alone during this challenging time. Sometimes, this means I am telling jokes or playing “Would You Rather...” while someone gets their blood drawn. Other times, I hold silence and hands while the exam is completed. I might sit next to someone the entire time. Other days, I am asked to sit outside of the door in the hall or in the waiting room. I want the survivor to take the lead and ask for what they need. 

Once an exam is complete, I walk that person out to their car or make sure they have a safe way to get home. The next day, I follow-up with them. This is time to understand what support looks like to them and reinforce their decision-making. After that, every situation is different. A person might use our services. They could participate in individual appointments, a support group, seek assistance with filing a protective order, receive support for court hearings, or access referrals to resources. Other times, we have no further contact. 

To all survivors, I would like to say this: I believe you. You matter tremendously. We are here for you. All Prevail services are free and confidential. 

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