April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Learn about Freeman Emergency Department’s Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Program

By Savanah Mandeville


“I would tell [sexual assault victims] that it is not their fault, they will be believed, not blamed or judged, and the SANE Program and SART will do our best to respond and help in the most competent, compassionate and understanding manner possible.” – Karen Scott, RN, SANE-A, Program Coordinator for Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Program


In April, the teal ribbon stands for Sexual Assault Awareness.

  • Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. (Department of Justice)
  • On average, there are 321,500 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States. (Department of Justice)
  • 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of attempted or completed rape in her lifetime (14.8% completed, 2.8% attempted). (Department of Justice)

(To learn more, visit https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence.)


Sadly, Joplin and the surrounding area are not exempt from the prevalence of sexual violence we see reflected in the alarming numbers above.


That’s why Freeman’s emergency department has the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program. This program, led by Medical Director Dr. Kathryn Cornelius and Program Coordinator Karen Scott, is part of a team approach called a Sexual Assault Response Team (SART), which responds to the immediate needs of adult victims of sexual assault in a compassionate and comprehensive way.


Since its inception, the SANE program has treated 416 patients. That’s about 46 per year from 2010 to 2018.


“Effective collection of evidence is important to successfully prosecuting sex offenders. Just as critical is performing forensic exams in a sensitive, dignified and victim-centered manner,” Scott said.


“Having a positive experience with health care systems and the criminal justice system can contribute to the overall healing of an individual who has experienced this horrendous crime.”


Scott works alongside three specially-trained SANE nurses, with two more nurses to start training soon. The medical director of the program is Dr. Kathryn Cornelius, who reviews all cases and provides medical oversight and standing orders for the program.


“The mission of our Sexual Assault Response Team is to promote a systemic response that holds sexual offenders accountable and fosters a community sensitive to the needs of sexual assault survivors,” Scott said. “This is achieved by the collaborative and coordinated multidisciplinary response of the agencies and organizations who work with sexual assault survivors in our community. These efforts are the best way to stop sexual violence, hold offenders accountable for their crimes, and promote victim healing and recovery.”


The program team works to ensure safety of the patient; provide medical care, advocacy and emergency shelter; assist with voluntary reporting of the crime; and offers the choice to have evidence collected. Patients are given information about follow-up care, counseling and support groups, how to get an order of protection and help throughout the legal process if patients choose to press charges.


Spearheaded by Dr. Cornelius, Scott and other like-minded professionals, April 1, 2019, marked the SANE program’s 10th anniversary. Scott has degrees in psychology and nursing and history as a psychiatric nurse. She has been an emergency department nurse for 22 years.


“Our original concept of the SANE program was a joint effort by three area hospitals to establish a community-based program offering forensic exams at Lafayette House,” Scott said. “When that didn’t work out, I helped other dedicated professionals approach our administration about setting up a program based in the emergency department. It was approved, and Freeman administration has always been very supportive of the SANE program.”


Scott said even with the concerted efforts of programs like Freeman’s, the vast majority of sexual assaults go unreported.


“Unfortunately, victims often feel that they will not be believed,” she said. “Our culture also tends to blame the victim for the crime committed against them – for instance, where they were, what they were doing or wearing – as if they are somehow responsible for the perpetrator’s decision to assault them. Victims may also blame themselves for the sexual assault and feel embarrassed. They may fear their assailants or lack access to services or resources. Sometimes they may simply want to go somewhere safe and try to forget the assault ever happened … I would tell them that it is not their fault, they will be believed, not blamed or judged, and the SANE Program and SART will do our best to respond and help in the most competent, compassionate and understanding manner possible.”