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FIU Receives $1.5 Million Grant To Train Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners

Florida International University will launch a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners training program.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Florida counts just  44 certifiedSexual Assault Nurse Examiners or "SANE nurses," tasked with properly securing evidence from survivors of sexual assault.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in three women and one in six men will experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime. Research shows response time is crucial when a sexual assault occurs, but in much of rural Florida, SANE nurses are hard to come by.

That may soon change. Florida International University recently received a $1.5 million grant to launch a collaboration between its  Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing & Health Sciences and the Global Forensic and Justice Center for a university-based Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners training program. The program will help train nurses within rural health clinics and hospitals in underserved counties.

Dr. Tami Thomas, the associate dean of research at FIU’s Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing & Health Sciences, joined Sundial to talk about the shortage of SANE nurses and the new program that is set to roll out in August. 

WLRN: So let's go over how [the program] is going to work.

Thomas: There are already nurses in the [rural] hospitals and so I'm working with the directors of nursing [at the rural hospitals] and at the clinics to look at people who would like to get this training. The other thing we have to do is train enough [nurses] because the burnout rate is very high. As you can imagine, sometimes there are things you can't un-hear or un-see and this process is not something that's done very quickly. If you do a sexual assault exam on an individual, you collect the forensic evidence, you make sure the patient has the support they need for follow up and you may not get subpoenaed to court for months. So the process is long standing and you can't just have one nurse in a hospital who can perform this all the time. So you have to have a small cadre of at least six people to make sure that things are covered.

When you talk about these rural communities there’s often a waiting period that occurs when a sexual assault victim shows up at a hospital. What is the problem with that wait time and what is it like?

[With a long wait time survivors] don't report. People don't report it. So imagine... you're that survivor. You have had this most horrible violent thing happen to you. You're in shock. You don't know what to do next. And you really don't know whether or not you want to report. You might have someone go online and check. And the best place to serve you is an hour or two hour drive away... Survivors have very difficult choices and they're in shock and they don't always have the support they need. So it's a hard choice for them. But with this grant and with the support of the global forensics and Justice Institute and the support of our collaborative partners in Hendry and Glades County hopefully we can mitigate that and reduce that wait time and better serve the survivors.

The state of Illinois tried to pass a measure last year that would require all hospitals to have these kind of examiners who can treat sexual assault survivors. Have you seen initiatives like this in Florida? And how are nonprofits [and] universities filling the gap?

Well they're applying for these grants. This is just one step forward. FIU is really doing something very intuitive and innovative. We're not the very first university to do this type of program, but I think it's fantastic that nursing and global forensics and justice are able to collaborate and help initiate and get this program up and rolling.

Copyright 2020 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Alejandra Martinez is the associate producer for WLRN&rsquo's Sundial. Her love for radio started at her mother’s beauty shop where she noticed that stories are all around her - important stories to tell.