Sometimes Francine Henley uses humor to lessen the anxiety of her patients while she does a sexual assault examination.
“I’ll say, ‘Who do you want to be stuck with? Because you don’t have any choice but me, but you can put eve-rybody else out,’” said Hen-ley, a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, or SANE, at St. Jo-seph Regional Medical Cen-ter.
Sometimes the patient will chuckle, and it gives them back some control. They choose who is in the room with them while a nurse ex-amines them, a second inva-sion after a traumatic assault.
Sometimes she’ll bargain with the patients, particularly if it’s a child.
“As soon as I finish this swab, I’ll get you some or-ange juice,” she’ll tell a reluc-tant boy or girl.
As a certified SANE nurse, Henley is tasked with caring for someone who has just re-ported a sexual assault, checking his or her physical health, collecting evidence and ensuring the process is as non-invasive as an exam like that can be.
She swabs fluids from the victims’ skin, combs their hair, combs their pubic hair, removes debris from skin with a sticky adhesive, shines a blacklight over their body and sometimes does a pelvic exam.
And while performing these procedures, technical and methodical so the evi-dence holds up in court, she tries to comfort them.
Henley’s certification to do this type of exam is one that is widely lacking both locally and nationally. Pediatric SANEs, which require an ad-ditional level of certification, are particularly scarce.
Those interviewed for this story say a hospital staffed with enough adult and pedi-atric SANEs to cover all shifts requires money and re-sources for the stringent train-ing and certification process, something not always avail-able or emphasized.
Yet the expertise it takes to care for these individuals and properly collect the evidence is crucial, nurses and law en-forcement say.
‘The victim doesn’t wait’
As of May, 1,314 SANEs were certified worldwide to examine adult sexual assault patients, and 372 pediatric SANEs were trained to exam-ine children, according to a report from the Fort Wayne Sexual Assault Treatment Center.
In St. Joseph County, a handful of SANEs service the population, most of them from St. Joseph Regional Medical Center.
St. Joseph staffs seven SANEs, to be joined by an additional four who will un-dergo training in September.
As of now, St. Joseph County has two pediatric SANE nurses, Henley and one other nurse at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center.
Memorial Hospital officials say the hospital staffs two to three SANEs in total and trains the remaining nurses so they are able to conduct the exams when the SANEs are not working, though they are not SANE-certified.
Elkhart County has even less, with two SANEs staffed at Goshen Hospital and three at Elkhart General Hospital.
In some cases, police here take victims to a state-of-the-art, 24-hour sexual assault treatment center in Fort Wayne to use the resources there, because without a SANE-certified nurse at hand at a local hospital, victims wait, sometimes for hours, until an emergency room nurse is available.
That’s why Henley, head of the SANE program at St. Jo-seph, pushed the hospital to invest in training for four new SANEs.