Saturday, September 14, 2013

Why We Need Compassionate Care (and Services) After Rape (or Sexual Assault) Part 2

This is Part 2 of Why We Need Compassionate Care (and Services) After Rape (or Sexual Assault) Part 1. Please read Part 1 first.

We need service providers who listen and emphathize, who reassure us it wasn't our fault. We need providers who ask us before they touch our bodies, telling us what they're doing and why. We need service providers who ask us how they can help us.

Three years later Sparrow was raped again. She planned on not reporting it at all because she didn't want to go through the rape exam in the same way. But when a police officer came to her door looking
Photo By: Nhoj Leunamme == Jhon Emmanuecc
for information on her rapist, who had also raped a 16-year-old girl in her neighborhood, Sparrow decided to tell the officer what happened to help the girl's case.

When she returned to the same hospital, she was pleasantly surprised to find that this exam was everything the first one wasn't. They introduced themselves. They explained what they'd be doing and why. They were gentle and treated her like a human. Then they gave her information about what she might expect emotionally afterwards. 

What happened in the three years in between? The hospital implemented a special program where the medical professionals doing the exam were trained specifically to do rape kit examinations. They're on trained on not just the technical aspects, but trained to reject rape myths, be compassionate, sensitive, and treat survivors like they're human.

Programs like the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART, consisting of a trained nurse, a trained police officer, and a trained member of the prosecuting attorney's office, along with an advocate with the survivor), Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE), and Forensic Nurse Examiner (FNE) often provide better care in medical settings. These providers are trained to reject rape myths and provide more comprehensive human care and compassion.

But the coverage can fall short. For example, according to,  only one SANE/SART program exists in the entire state of Nevada. It's in Reno. So what happens if someone is raped in Las Vegas? Also, many of the current SANE/SART programs are under the threat of closing down due to budget cuts. 

While these programs cover medical treatment for rape survivors, only the SART program includes training for police and prosecuting attorneys. Otherwise, police and prosecuting attorneys are often not trained to work with survivors of sexual assault. 

The thing is, that even in places with the SART program, the way the U.S. justice system is set up, it still allows attacks on survivors and fails to protect survivors from even some of the most basic safety measures. For example, a defense investigator can call you, send you letters, show up at your door, or even your neighbor's door to try to find a way to defam your character. This is incredibly intrusive and can feel you're being attacked again. In addition, unless you tell the police and the attorneys not to give your attacker your name, they might just do it, all the while saying, "Oh, what's the problem? You can always get a restraining order if he bothers you."

Then there's teachers, school administration, and colleges who largely have minimal training (if any at all) and have the school's reputation to protect. This includes keeping star athletes and people who are paying full price out of trouble.

So while we've made some progress in recent years bringing more compassionate care to sexual assault survivors, we still have a long way to go. The pending lawsuits by several college students is a wonderful wake-up that I'm sure will change the scope of how colleges around the country handle sexual assault. And we need to put information in the hands of the people, the students and the other survivors, so that they know exactly how they can deal with the myriad of choices they will have to make in the process of the aftermath in a way that supports them. I'm in the process of writing an e-guide to do just that. In a few days, I'll post a sample section from it. Let's bring choices and compassion to our rape survivors. They deserve nothing less.


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