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Salon.com
MARCH 5, 2012 9:03AM

Staying SANE

Rate: 3 Flag
For those who are fortunate enough not to know, in the world of sexual assault SANE means Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner. This nurse is responsible for evidence collection and post-assault examination and is often the first person a rape victim speaks to after the police.

I reluctantly called my sisters to let them know I was being taken to the hospital. One of my sisters is a social worker, so late night/early morning hospital visits were within her realm of expertise. My other sister was distraught - I hated seeing the pain on her face.

The city I lived in at the time has a very nice, fairly well-funded women's center. They sent an advocate to sit with me while the SANE nurse did her work, and I wish they hadn't. The woman they sent was, in a word, bizarre. She went on about how uncomfortable or painful parts of the evidence collection would be, and looked me over as if I were a specimen in a jar. She stared at me and asked weird, pointed questions, like, "Did he lick your ear?" She was just an awkward human being, and I was extremely uncomfortable with her in the room. I know she was a volunteer and I'm sure she meant well, but in retrospect I would have preferred to have one of my sisters with me. 

By contrast, the SANE nurse who collected the rape kit and performed my exam was a consummate professional. She exhibited a perfect balance of professionalism and courtesy, and she made me as comfortable as possible during the exam. She explained in detail the variety of drugs I would take over the course of the next week and their side effects. She was calm and thoughtful without being condescending or making me feel worse than I already did.

As an aside, I find that this is one of the things people never talk about regarding the aftermath of sexual assault. The drugs they give you to combat STDs, specifically AIDS, and prevent pregnancy make you sick ... or at least, they made me sick. So, to add insult to injury, a raped woman is made ill for days by the antibiotics and other drugs and then must submit to repeated testing to make sure the rapist hasn't given her something that will kill her.

I never got the opportunity to thank the SANE nurse who worked with me that morning - I was in shock and wasn't thinking clearly for most of the time she and I spent together. I hope she realizes that being good at her job is a rare and wonderful thing, and that her title is more than just an acronym. "Sane" is the very thing she helped me feel in the midst of horror and chaos. I will always be grateful for her.

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Your story really resonates with me. I think it's the kindness of others during those moments that mean so much. Thirteen months ago my fiance killed himself with me in the home. I remember very little of that day except for the interactions that I had with the police officers. I very clearly remember the idiot officer that came to ask me the name of the deceased without anyone telling me that he was, in fact decease, I remember the jerk who kept staring at me like I was ruining his morning, but most of all I remember the woman officer that sat next to me all morning. She didn't speak to me at all (I think), but the few times she placed her hand on my back, or motioned me in one direction or another, she helped me so much. This one woman, who I will never get to thank, gave me the greatest gift.

Thank goodness for the kindness of strangers.
I am always amazed at people who choose to work in public service but have no tact or empathy.
I am glad that you had someone (besides family) that showed such professionalism, care, and helped make a horrific experience a little more "sane". Thanks for sharing. Rated.
I didn't know anything about the drugs prescribed after a rape. It makes sense, but as you say, another detail we never hear about. I'm grateful you had such a caring nurse. As it should be. Perhaps one day she'll read this and know she made a difference.
I briefly volunteered on a board committee of the fledgling and only rape crisis center in my urban area. I was ask at one point to be one of those volunteers who accompany the women to the ER, while the SANE nurse does the exam, and to also answer the crisis hotline. I could never imagine myself being comfortable in that situation or even knowing close to the right things to say, or god forbid, having a breakdown of my own with the emotional intensity of the situation. But, that volunteer in your situation sounded completely out of line and really weird. SANE nurses are definitely wonderful things and I'm shocked that more people are not aware of them.