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Sexual Assault Nurses program will now cover entire province

An announcement this week from the Department of Health and Wellness will provide more resources to victims of sexual assault
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An announcement this week from the Department of Health and Wellness will provide more resources to victims of sexual assault.

The Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program (SANE) is expanding to cover the areas of Cumberland, Colchester, East Hants and the Eastern Shore.

"It's heavy work, but it's also very rewarding work," says Susan Wilson, provincial coordinator of SANE.

Wilson says sexual assault nurses are at the front lines when responding to sexual assaults.

"They provide some medical care, support, resources as well as options to collect forensic evidence for a potential criminal investigation should they choose to report to police," Wilson tells NEWS 95.7's The Todd Veinotte Show.

All SANE nurses are registered nurses who work part or full-time jobs elsewhere.

"A lot of nurses that are drawn to this areas of work are nurses who work in the area of women's health, labour and delivery, mental health," says Wilson.

The SANE program in Nova Scotia started in the 1990s as a hospital-based pilot project, but was quickly revamped to a community-based model.

In 2000, the first program of its kind began at the Avalon Sexual Health centre in Halifax.

"Since that time that model has been very successful and has continued to grow across the province," says Wilson.

In 2006 the program expanded to Antigonish, and in 2015 to the South Shore and Annapolis Valley.

Wilson says all the SANE nurses recieve in-depth classroom training.

"Our Nova Scotia portion is six full days of classroom training, it's 45 to 49 hours of classroom training, followed by a 16-hour clinical skills lab," she explains. "They get to practice some of those techinical skills like photography and using our alternate light source simulation, doing speculum exams, and simulated patient exams on actual individuals."

Although numbers haven't spiked in recent years, Wilson says they are still high in the province.

"One in three women and girls, one in six boys, two in three trans, non-binary or two-spirited individuals will experience sexual assault in their live time," she adds.

Wilson hopes that the availability of SANE nurses will increase reporting rates across Nova Scotia.

"We're hopful that by having these specially trained sexual assault nurse examiners and a place to land where individuals can report and have the time to provide that care will make a difference," she says. "We know that the harms of sexualized violence are great and the care that is sometimes needed is quite specialized."

The SANE coordinator says that reporting to a sexual assault nurse doesn't mean you have to report the assault to the police, but that SANE nurses will testify in court for victims if they're asked to.

Wilson, who has been working in the field since 2001, says she will continue to lobby government to increase services, and is happy with the progress made in recent years.

"I can't say that the government has not listened, actually they've been quite receptive," she adds.


Victoria  Walton

About the Author: Victoria Walton

Victoria is HalifaxToday.ca's weekend editor and a Halifax-based freelancer. She is originally from Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley.
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