It's been quite a while since I wrote a reflections post, but feel prompted to do so today. As many of you know, I am an Emergency Department nurse. What you may not know is that I'm also a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner or SANE. I am privileged to work on a talented team of nurse's trained to assist sexual assault and rape victims. I also work with a multi-disciplinary team made of law enforcement agents, advocates, nurses, and prosecutors. One of my team members recently received an award for her work in the field and as I was reflecting on the work she and the rest of the team does, I was prompted to write about this difficult and painful topic.
A Little BackgroundMy start into SANE was quite unexpected and goes back to 2008 when I was in my first year of nursing school and a CNA in a small hospital. I was asked one morning to float to the ED and assist the ED manager with a SANE exam. I knew nothing about SANE and very little about sexual assault, but I went. That day a seed was planted in my heart to help these victims. The SANE is often one of the earliest points of contact the victim has made since being assaulted. The way the SANE acts or reacts to what she is exposed to can greatly impact the victim's emotional healing. Though I have little or no contact with most of my victims after that one encounter, I truly believe that if I show kindness and compassion, I may very well help her (or him) begin their journey to healing. That is a responsibility that I take very seriously. I may not be able to talk about Jesus, but I can be a reflection of His love to a hurting heart.
What is Sexual Assault?So how do I define sexual assault? Sexual assault is any unwanted sexual contact. Each state has its own laws on what is a felony or what is a misdemeanor. To define the differences would be far too complicated to go into here. ANYONE can be sexually assaulted. The hot 20 year old college co-ed is not the only person at risk. Sexual assault is a crime that impacts every age, race, gender, and religion. At the most basic level - NO MEANS NO. We should have learned that concept as toddlers. Unfortunately, when it comes to what is OK in dating or other relationships, the rules often get thrown out.
No Means NoWhat are some common reasons people don't or can't say no when they really don't want sexual contact?
1. Fear of injury or harm to themselves or to someone they love. No explanation needed here.
2. Fear of peer pressure - "If I say no, I will never be asked out again."
3. Feeling like they let things go too far and now they can't say no. Though this is a lie, it is a tactic used and causes increased feelings of guilt to the already hurting victim.
4. Fear of other reprisal - "If I tell my boss no, I will lose my job." or "If I say no to my teacher, I may fail the class or get picked on at school."
These are some of the reasons, but the list could probably continue.
Sexual Assault is not always reported.Despite the fact that sexual assault is more prominent than you may realize, it is often unreported. There are many reasons this occurs. It is important that we understand some of those reasons.
1. "No one will believe me". Sadly, this is sometimes true. Keep telling someone until you find that one who will listen to you.
2. Fear - The reasons people are afraid to say no are often the same reasons they are afraid to report. Fear is a powerful emotion and abusers use it to control their victims.
3. Shame - Most victims feel a measure of guilt about being assaulted. While this may not make sense to someone who has never been assaulted, it is a common feeling among victims.
4. Reporting a rape or sexual assault can feel a bit like opening Pandora's Box. A very private, painful hurt is now being ripped open and shared with friends, family, and complete strangers.
So what do we do about it?We educate - Teach your children about inappropriate touch. Teach them that No Means No - no matter what else is going on. Teach those around you that it is OK to say no. Dinner and a movie doesn't mean you have to say 'yes' to sex.
We report - Do you know someone who is being abused? Will you be the one to help them report it? Sexual assault and rape are crimes!
We love and support - If someone comes to you after an assault, listen to them. They are hurting and they need someone to believe what they are saying. They don't need your rejection, disbelief, or criticism. They may not even initially need your advice. They need a rock to steady them through a horrific storm, a shoulder to cry on, and a hand to hold.
Are you a victim of sexual assault?It is for you that my heart hurts. I can only understand a very small amount of the pain you are feeling because I have listened to your story through the lives of my patients. I have seen your bruises, held your hand, let you cry, and tried to love you with Jesus' love. There is HOPE and HEALING for you. Most cities have a crisis hotline or you can quickly find national hotlines online. Stop a police officer you see in the convenience store. Tell someone you trust. Talk to your pastor. If the assault is recent, go to the Emergency Department. They can help you get the resources you need. Just reach out to someone. If they don't listen, reach out to someone else. DON'T GIVE UP. You can heal. No, the road isn't easy. It's very hard, but you can do it.