The Town of Pulaski has been awarded a grant by the Office on Violence Against Women at the Department of Justice (DOJ) to develop a new community based Forensic Nurse Examiner (FNE) Program called SAFE Center of Southwest Virginia (SWVA). The goal of this program is to provide confidential, compassionate, comprehensive, trauma-informed services to adult and adolescent victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking. SAFE Center of SWVA will provide medical care and referrals to help victims heal after an assault and will collect evidence to improve the investigation and prosecution of these cases. These services will be offered to anyone in the Town of Pulaski, Pulaski County, Dublin, or surrounding areas.
According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime (14.8% completed, 2.8% attempted); Every 73 seconds another American is sexually assaulted; About 3% of American men—or 1 in 33—have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime; From 2009-2013, Child Protective Services agencies substantiated, or found strong evidence to indicate that, 63,000 children a year were victims of sexual abuse; Of victims under the age of 18: 34% of victims of sexual assault and rape are under age 12, and 66% of victims of sexual assault and rape are age 12-17.
For a local perspective on the need for a FNE program, data obtained from law enforcement in the Town of Pulaski and Pulaski County for the year 2018 include: Domestic assaults-387, Sexual assaults-54. These are the victims who reported to law enforcement. There are many who do not wish to report to law enforcement but need the care of an FNE. The department of social services data from 7/1/2017-6/30/2018 includes 2,019 referrals, 560 investigations, and 336 founded cases for Child Protective Services, and 100 reports of elder abuse.
A Forensic Nurse Examiner (FNE) is a Registered Nurse or Advanced Practice Nurse who has received special education and training to enable them to provide care to victims of violence. FNEs provide trauma informed care to victims, blending the holistic care of nursing with standards from medicine, science, and law. A forensic patient is a patient who has a healthcare issue and overlaps with the legal system. While evidence collection and courtroom testimony are part of the FNE role, the medical wellbeing of the patient is the primary concern of the FNE.
Memorandum of Understanding Partners involved with this grant are Lewis Gale Hospital Pulaski, the Pulaski Police Department, the Pulaski County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, The Women’s Resource Center of the New River Valley, and the Pulaski County Department of Social Services. The SAFE Center of SWVA hopes to collaborate with many other community agencies to provide the best care possible to victims
April Bennett BSN, RN, SANE-A, SANE-P will be the FNE providing exams for this program. April has 33 years of experience as an RN, and 17 years as an FNE. She has been nationally certified as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) for adult/adolescents (SANE-A) for 14 years and for pediatrics (SANE-P) for 13 years. Cristina Trout, FNP will be the medical director overseeing the program. Mrs. Trout has been a nurse for 45 years and has been an FNE for 22 years. She has been nationally certified as a SANE-A for 14 years and SANE-P for 13 years.
Medical Consulting Services, LLC is a company owned by April Bennett that will be seeing forensic patients that do not fall under this grant’s guidelines (such as pediatric physical abuse and sexual abuse). The Free Clinic of Pulaski has very generously donated 2 rooms to Medical Consulting Services, LLC to be used for forensic exams and office space. The Free Clinic has also agreed to allow these rooms to be used for SAFE Center of SWVA. If a patient is not medically stable, they will remain at Lewis Gale Hospital Pulaski and the FNE will examine the patient in the hospital.
The National Children’s Alliance states nearly 700,000 children are abused in the U.S each year. An estimated 678,000 children (unique incidents) were victims of abuse and neglect in 2018, the most recent year for which there is national data. However, this data may be incomplete, and the actual number of children abused is likely underreported. More than 3.5 million children received an investigation or alternative response from child protective services agencies and an estimated 1.9 million children received prevention services. Child abuse is deadly. In 2018, an estimated 1,770 children died from abuse and neglect in the United States. The youngest children were most vulnerable. Children in the first year of their life had the highest rate of victimization.
This grant is giving the Town of Pulaski the opportunity to develop a free-standing clinic outside of a hospital setting. There is only one other clinic similar to this in the state and it is a sexual assault clinic in Eastern Virginia. SAFE Center of SWVA and Medical Consulting Services, LLC wanted to move outside of a hospital and into a more calming and soothing environment to start the patient’s healing process. The Town of Pulaski and Medical Consulting Services, LLC are grateful to the Office on Violence Against Women for providing this opportunity to offer these services to our community and hopefully be able to teach others how to develop a program for their community.