Manitoba

Specialized unit at HSC for sex assault survivors puts patients in charge

In an unmarked room at Winnipeg's Health Sciences Centre, a specialized program for sexual assault victims has been quietly operating for 14 years. Privacy, and compassion for victims, are key elements of the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, or SANE, program.

Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program at Health Sciences lets victims decide level of care, police involvement

A specialized unit at Health Sciences Centre offers sexual assault victims a private area where they can receive treatment, have forensic examinations and make a police report. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

In an unmarked room at Winnipeg's Health Sciences Centre, a specialized program for sexual assault victims has been quietly operating for 14 years.

Privacy, and compassion for victims, are key elements of the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, or SANE, program.

The specialized team of nurses is called in when someone who has been sexually assaulted shows up in a Winnipeg emergency room.

"Under the circumstances that they're here, it's important that we take them to a separate part of the hospital where it's quiet, it's private, and much calmer," said Edie Adams, a nurse with SANE for the past five years. "It's a far more private area than if we were to see somebody in emergency."

Patients are referred to SANE when they are triaged in the emergency department, and can also be transferred from other hospitals. Usually, they can be seen within the hour and are taken to the private suite.

The program sees about 500 patients per year and treats victims of all ages, genders and sexual orientations.

Edie Adams has been with the SANE program for five years. She says having a private space where patients feel safe and supported makes the process less traumatic. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

April is sexual assault awareness month, and even though the facility has been around for 14 years, many people don't know it exists, partly because it is so private.

That's why the program opened its doors to media on Tuesday, to let people know what a sexual assault victim can expect should they find themselves in that situation.

Options for patients

Inside, the specialized care is patient-led, meaning the victim decides what level of care they want to receive.

"We give them the options of what's available to them," said Adams.

"Sometimes they just want STI testing, sometimes they want a full exam, and sometimes they want a full exam and they also want police involved, at which time we will do a forensic exam," she said.

Behind two sets of locked doors, the room offers a waiting area where a patient, and their support person or family member, can listen to music, access information, or talk with a nurse or counsellor.

There's a private exam room where nurses can gather forensic evidence with a specialized camera.

"We also have a bathroom with a shower facility [where] after the exam, they can get cleaned up and feel a lot better," said Adams.

The SANE suite is in an unmarked room at Heath Sciences Centre to allow victims complete privacy. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

A change of clothes is provided, and patients are equipped with information about resources that are available or options for making a police report.

A separate room is discreetly equipped with a camera and microphone, so victims can make a report to police. The room even has a blanket warmer, so they can feel comfortable.

"It's less intimidating for the patient. They've already been through a traumatic experience," said Adams.

She says having the ability to carry out the entire process in one space makes it easier on patients.

"The fact that they can come here, have your exam here, be supported by the people who are here just for you, is really important," said Adams.
This private exam room allows victims of sexual assault to have a forensic examination in a less chaotic environment than an emergency room. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

"By the time you're done you've been empowered with information for what happens next [and] the resources that are available to you after you leave the hospital."

Adams said the process can take anywhere from one to six hours, depending on what options the patient requests.

She says the transformation she sees in patients tells her the program is working.

"It's the unknown when they arrive here," she said.

"By the time we've done what they want us to do and we take them back to emergency, it's a totally different person than what arrived in emergency."
Privacy, and compassion for victims, are key elements of the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, or SANE, program. 1:27