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Sexual assault nurse examiners in critical need for victims in Wisconsin

"I know its hard to get SANE nurses, because the training is intense"
Nurse COVID-19
Posted at 6:46 AM, Apr 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-15 23:25:02-04

Watch this report Tuesday on TMJ4 News at 10 p.m.

BEAVER DAM, Wis. — In our Two Americas series, our goal is to show you the America you know and the America you might not.

This includes the shortage of nurses trained to treat rape victims in emergency rooms. We take a look at the fallout during this Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

It is hard to imagine what a sexual assault victim has gone through, let alone what has to happen right after, to find justice.

"It takes courage for a victim to walk into a hospital and say 'I was sexually assaulted,'" said Susan Kanack, the Wisconsin Department of Justice's Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Coordinator.

"It's evidence-based that you get the best collection right after the event without going to the restroom, without taking a shower, so all that DNA is not compromised," said Ashley Welak, PAVE Executive Director, which stands for Protect, Advocate, Validate, Educate. PAVE is a victim advocacy organization in Beaver Dam.

Many victims have been turned away from the first hospital they go to, because a sexual assault nurse examiner - also known as a SANE nurse - is not on staff.

Welak shared how far someone in Dodge County may have to drive to a different location if a SANE nurse is not on duty.

"It's about an hour, so they'll refer to Meriter [UnityPoint Health] in Madison. Hartford Aurora has one as well, but that's another 45 minutes," Welak said.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice found Milwaukee County has the highest number of practicing nurses, at 26. Brown County has just 15 and in Dodge County, there is at least one.

"I know it's hard to get SANE nurses, because the training is intense," said Welak.

"Sometimes it just becomes too much," said Kanack.

The turnover rate from burnout is high. More than three in 10 SANE nurse have quit in Southeast Wisconsin. In the Northeast Region, nearly two in 10 have given up.

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This includes Fond du Lac County. District Attorney Eric Toney has seen the struggle.

"There are times we may have survivors in the hospital, it could be an hour or 90 minutes where we're trying to get a SANE nurse," Toney said.

This is crucial time lost to collect sensitive evidence.

"That's a heartbreak and I firmly believe that every type of hospital should have these types of nurses," said Kanack.

"A SANE nurse is crucial in us being able to present this evidence and that's why they're so important," said Toney.

Wisconsin does have a Safe Fund Program that reimburses health care providers for the cost of a forensic medical exam for a sexual assault.

Currently, there is no national or Wisconsin state standard for whether a hospital has to have a SANE nurse on staff.

If you are a licensed nurse who would like to become a certified SANE nurse, click here to learn more about the 41.75-hour course.

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