SANE nurses trained to help victims of sexual assault

By Emma Henderson, WSAW News

WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW)-- Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners, or SANE Nurses, are there for a patient when they are most vulnerable, right after they've been attacked.

Nurses all over Northcentral Wisconsin get a special training to administer rape kits. The process of completing a kit is lengthy, and can take anywhere from 90 minutes to six hours.

The SANE Nurses working with sexual assault victims get training about the legal process, chain of custody, use special testing tools and follow an evidence collecting process.

Often, the stories they hear from victims stick with them.

"It was a very traumatizing assault where the victim was help captive all night long," Aspirus SANE Coordinator Lynn Senfelds said as she recalls a particularly difficult case. "You really take care in providing the service to the victim."

Senfelds' job as a SANE Nurse is a combination of her nursing skills and special training, knowing that the evidence she collected could someday be used in court.

"This would fluoresce biologicals, we would fluoresce that area and then we would know to swab and collect potential DNA from those areas as well," Senfelds said as she demonstrates a flashlight with a special bulb. Both the nurse and survivor have to wear special orange goggles when the flashlight is being used.

Nurses begin the examination of a sexual assault survivor as soon as they make sure the patient isn't suffering from any dangerous injuries.

"There's a detailed examination, history of the sexual assault and medical forensic examination," Senfelds said.

Nurses do all they can to keep patients comfortable throughout the process. The room they use is given a less clinical look by the wallpaper, trim and paintings on the walls. Dark colored wood cabinets hold supplies and the lights aren't the sterile bright white that's used throughout the rest of the building. Instead, they opt for a dimmed light that's less harsh on the eyes.

"There is nothing we'll do that is uncomfortable for the person, they always have the option to move forward or to skip a step if they're uncomfortable," Senfelds said.

Although Senfelds has years of experience as an Emergency Room and SANE Nurse, the cases never get easier.

"It is very difficult, sometimes you lose sleep when you go home, you worry that you missed a step, or you really want to feel that you're providing the best care possible," Senfelds said.

The Wausau Police Department currently has 26 untested rape kits, and is not certain when they will be sent to a private lab for testing.

Attorney General Brad Schimel announced a plan called "By Your Side Wisconsin" to help victims of sexual assault across the state, by connecting them to resources.

State Rep. Katrina Shankland, D- Stevens Point, says she doesn't think the Attorney General's Office is doing enough.

"So, the issue that I have is that after 16 months of getting this federal funding of four million dollars, we find out that only nine rape kits out of 6,000 have been tested. And, what makes it worse, is that Attorney General Schimel said there were several hundred that were tested and then a couple of days later he admits it was only nine," Rep. Shankland said.

Schimel's office acknowledged the rape kit testing discrepancy to the Green Bay Press-Gazette two days after saying a few hundred rape kits had already been tested.