It was 1989 at Women and Infants hospital. I was a counselor-advocate for a woman seeking emergency care after a rape. She told me she had been abducted by two men who talked about killing her. She managed to run away and hide in the woods. She was grateful to be alive.
We waited for hours in the busy emergency room. Triage demands that the most emergent patients be seen first, and a rape exam is low on the list.
Finally the doctor arrived. She rushed into the room and stared at my client coldly. ‘Is this the woman who was supposedly raped?’
I was shocked, but kept silent so that the doctor could do the exam and leave, and this exhausted woman could finally go home.
This woman was in pain, with wounds physical and emotional. No one wants to be her, no one wants to be in that place. I’ve often wondered whether the doctor’s contemptuous manner covered a fear that any woman, even she herself, could be a victim.
I volunteered for two years with the Rape Crisis Center, (now Day One), and quickly lost the illusion that women are the more nurturing sex. In fact, the doctor, police officer, or nurse you want is the one with respect and compassion. That person can be male or female. Women might be more empathetic in general, but that’s no help when you run into a woman like that doctor. There were many other doctors both male and female who were kind and professional. It’s character, not gender.
This summer Day One held a class for Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE). Nurses who complete the program take call to respond to an emergency room when needed. This spares victims a long wait and frees the emergency room doctors from having to take out time from other urgent needs. SANE nurses have a much better record of collecting evidence, documenting, and offering antibiotics and the ‘morning after’ pill to protect against sexually transmitted disease and unwanted pregnancy. The evidence collected from the rape exam can be crucial if a case goes to trial. DNA evidence can help to convict the guilty or exonerate the innocent.
The SANE program is not cheap. Emergency room services and trained professionals are needed. In Rhode Island State Crime Victim Compensation Program will pay the costs so that victims are not billed for their care.
This will remove a barrier to women, children, and men who are victims of sexual assault and need emergency care. Day One, formerly the Rhode Island Rape Crisis Center, can be reached at 421-4100. The Victims of Crime Helpline can be reached 24/7 at 1-800-494-8100.