Moncton Hospital more equipped than Sackville at responding to sexual assault

Lack of  nurses trained in SANE reduces choice for survivors at Sackville Memorial Hospital

If someone wants to have a sexual assault forensic exam at the Sackville hospital, a medical doctor and a police officer need to be present. At the Moncton Hospital, the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program (SANE) provides more options for sexual assault survivors, but students must find a ride or contact SHARE for a cab to get there.

“That’s the last thing I would want to do, to get in a cab, probably with a strange man,” said Robin Bamber, a fourth-year sociology and women’s and gender studies student. Her sister was an assistant don for two years at Mt. A and brought this issue to her attention.

“A sexual assault forensic exam [or rape kit] is a box that contains a checklist, combs, swabs, sheets and instructions – along with envelopes and containers to package any specimens collected during the exam.… A person would go to emergency and say they have experienced sexual assault and would like a kit,” said Melody Petlock, SHARE advisor.

At the Sackville Memorial Hospital, with this type of evidence collection, the police need to be involved and the survivor “will be expected to make a statement,” said Petlock. However, at the Moncton Hospital, the SANE program provides more holistic service. There is a specific examination room for the program and a police officer or doctor does not need to be present for the exam, unless the patient has an injury that requires a doctor’s attention. The SANE nurse will not leave the survivor or be called away to another patient.

Sackville hospital cannot store evidence long-term due to lack of an evidence freezer.
Sylvan Hamburger/Argosy

SANE is especially important as nurses working in this program are trained to find evidence up to 120 hours after an assault, while other methods require evidence be collected within 24 to 72 hours. Prophylactic medications for STIs and HIV, as well as emergency contraception, are available free of charge with the SANE program, but can be expensive at the Sackville hospital.

The issue of rape kits at the Sackville Hospital came to Mt. A student Isabelle Stewart’s attention when she was accompanying a friend who had a broken foot to the hospital. “It worried me because it seems like something they should have training for, especially in a university town where the hospital is sometimes our only healthcare option,” said Stewart.

There is work being done to bring SANE nurses to the Sackville hospital. “The current barrier is the red tape around needing special refrigeration/freezer units in which to store evidence. Until such a unit is in place, the SANE Program will not collect evidence in Sackville,” said Petlock.

Part of the benefit of the SANE program is that they can collect a complete kit and store it for six months upon request. This allows a survivor time to consider their options. In contrast, requesting a kit at Sackville Memorial Hospital means the hospital will call and involve the police. This takes the decision to report to police out of the survivor’s control.

SHARE will support any student who chooses to go to SANE and will provide money to pay for a student’s taxi. “All SHARE services are survivor-centred and survivor-driven,” said Petlock. “No one is ever forced to do anything and everything is about choice.” Students can contact SHARE 24/7 at 540-7427 or share@mta.ca.

Lily Falk