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Baltimore Sun reports on critical work of sexual assault forensic nurses

November 18, 2003 -- Today the Baltimore Sun ran a lengthy story by Linell Smith about Mercy Hospital's Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner (SAFE) program, stressing the SAFE nurses' key roles in collecting evidence and providing skilled counseling.

The story does not focus on particular patients, but on nurse Joyce Faust's experience as a part of the SAFE program--how she collects evidence, counsels and educates victims, provides needed testing and care, including planning for the future, and copes with potential burnout. Nurse Carole Brokos started the Mercy program in 1994, and Faust has been part of it for several years. The reach and impact of nurse-driven programs like this one is striking--the Mercy program reportedly now handles all sexual assault cases in Baltimore City and (temporarily) Baltimore County, an average of about 30 per month. And it has cut down the time that victims must spend in emergency department waiting rooms. The article does not glamorize the work, which, though it may involve high-profile criminal cases and cutting-edge technology, can be difficult, messy and stressful.

Though the article does not discuss the wider phenomenon of nurses like Ms. Faust, in recent years autonomous sexual assault nurse examiners have made a tremendous difference in the health care and legal landscape for victims of sexual assault across the United States. Unfortunately, this is not widely known, in part because influential elements of the mass media, for example NBC's November 13 "ER" episode, continue to show physicians providing such care. The Sun deserves credit for reaching beyond outdated stereotypes and highlighting an important real-life nursing contribution.

See Linell Smith's article Evidence of caring in the Baltimore Sun

Learn more about Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) and SAFE nurses at the International Association of Forensic Examiners

See a Nursing Spectrum article on SAFE nurses.