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Bills Aim To Fix Glaring Shortage of Sexual Assault Nurses in Virginia

Woman speaking
Rebecca Courtright speaks at a press conference Wednesday. Courtright had to travel to multiple hospitals before being treated for a 2003 rape. (Photo: Craig Carper/VPM News)

A recent study from the Virginia Joint Commission on Health Care showed many people in the state have to travel long distances for medical care after they’ve been sexually assaulted.

That’s because Virginia has a shortage of Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE). These specialized, forensic nurses examine patients, collect evidence and testify in court to convict perpetrators. 

There’s an effort in the General Assembly this year to improve access to this critical care.

Del. Karrie Delaney (D-Fairfax) said the deficiency means many hospitals are not equipped to treat these patients.

“This often leads to victims having to travel to larger localities, sometimes hours from their home, in order to receive proper treatment and access to justice,” Delaney said.

The state study released this fall found that there are fewer than 200 trained SANE nurses in Virginia, out of more than 93,902 registered nurses in the Commonwealth.

In 2003, Rebecca Courtright said she was forced to travel to multiple hospitals until a qualified nurse could be found after being raped.

“Maybe you change your mind and leave,” Courtright said. “No matter what you are made to feel that our society doesn’t take sexual assault seriously.”

Delaney is one of a handful of lawmakers introducing legislation this year to boost recruitment and training for forensic nurses across the state and create statewide standards for treating patients who have been assaulted.

HB806 : Del. Kerrie Delaney (D-Fairfax) Eliminates a state requirement that sexual assault victims must report the assault to law enforcement or undergo a physical evidence recovery kit examination to be eligible to recoup medical costs through the Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund. 

HB808 : Del. Kerrie Delaney (D-Fairfax) Sexual Assault Survivors Act. Establishes the Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner Program to increase the number of qualified sexual assault forensic services providers available in the Commonwealth. Requires every hospital to provide a base level of care for patients who have been assaulted or a plan in place to transfer patients. 

HB475 / SB373 Del. Mike Mullin (D-Newport News) and Sen. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) Establishes a statewide coordination program within the Department of Criminal Justice Services that will develop state standards and provide annual training and recruitment opportunities. 

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.
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