SMH nurses providing treatment, training and education to help sexual assault survivors

Statistics show violent incident increasing, health care system staff says

Image courtesy Sarasota Memorial Healthcare System

With over 50% of women and nearly one in three men suffering sexual assaults with violence in their lifetimes, as documented by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Sarasota Memorial Hospital has a program with more than 40 specially trained nurses  to care for such patients, Sarasota Memorial (SMH) points out in a recent news release.

That program began in 2015, the release says.

“Beyond the physical bruises and injuries, those assaults have long-term consequences for survivors, especially when they are too afraid or ashamed to seek help,” Elizabeth Kovach, a board-certified sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) who coordinates Sarasota Memorial’s forensics program, explains in the release.

At the health system’s three emergency care centers, the release continues, members of the SMH team counsel and care for survivors of sexual assault and other acts of violence and provide ongoing support and resources to help them through the healing process.

The team members also assist patients “who may have been exposed to sexually transmitted diseases or potential pregnancy concerns, or suffer from anxiety, depression or suicidal thoughts,” the release adds. “If criminal charges are filed, they work with authorities to provide expert testimony in the courtroom,” the release points out.

“Nine of 10 women who are raped experience post-traumatic stress disorder that often begins during the first two weeks following their assault,” said Kovach, who also serves as the Florida Chapter president of the International Association of Forensic Nurses. “In many cases,” she added in the release, “adults are not required to report sexual assault to law enforcement, but it’s important for them to know they can still access care, resources and critical support. When they come to the ER, they can choose what they would like to do, and it’s our job to support them in those decisions.”

The release notes that the number of survivors the team has cared for has been increasing. The figure per month in 2016 was five to six patients, the release says; today, it is nearly 20 per month. “In 2023, the SMH team cared for 215 sexual assault patients, up from 200 the year before,” the release adds.

“With numbers on the rise, and a shortage of sexual assault nurse examiners locally and nationally,” the release continues, “SMH’s forensics team has been collaborating with other agencies as it expands its outreach, training more than 100 other nurses in the community and other professionals who work with sexual assault survivors, with financial support from the Sarasota Memorial Healthcare Foundation.”

In 2023, the release adds, “the American Nurses Credentialing Center Magnet Accreditation Committee commended SMH’s forensic nurses, highlighting their program as a ‘top exemplar’ and model for other hospitals across the nation.”

The release points out, “If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, specially trained nurses are available at Sarasota Memorial’s three emergency care centers in Sarasota, Venice and North Port. You can also call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673). For online help, including chat hotlines in English and Spanish, visit:

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