Local sexual assault nurse examiners, River Bridge Center work to help victims

In 2012, the Roaring Fork Valley’s Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Program for adults closed. However, since then, a group of dedicated nurses from Aspen to Rifle and beyond have volunteered their expertise, time and care and subsequently brought back and continue to fight for the program — the Mountain West SANE Alliance (MWSA).

According to MWSA Clinical Coordinator Becky Antonelli, who also serves as an RN in addition to her work as a SANE, when the valley lost the program in 2012, many victims had to travel to Grand Junction or Frisco in order to receive the services the SANE program had provided.

“A SANE nurse is a nurse that has special credentials to be able to take care of patients who have been sexually assaulted. They can provide expert testimony if needed if the case goes to court, collect evidence and give the victim resources to follow up after the exam,” Beth Barnes, another RN in the program, told the Post Independent.

“The sexual assault nurse examiner does the medical exam for the victim, and it’s the first part of the whole process — healing from the sexual assault,” she said.

Four years later, in 2016, the MWSA conducted its first SANE examination, but since then it has continued working with patients often in a volunteer capacity and in borrowed space.

“We needed to find someone that would spearhead our program,” Antonelli explained.

Not wanting to lose the program for a second time, River Bridge Regional Center began providing the necessary administrative resources to the MWSA program. River Bridge provides a comfortable place for child sexual assault investigative interviews to occur, instead of in a police station or sheriff’s office.

Subsequently, the SANE Alliance now has contracted nurses that provide exams to the 9th Judicial District, and the program continues to grow.

“As of January 1 of this year, we have been working under the umbrella of River Bridge,” Antonelli said. “In the fall of last year, there were three of us who were actually doing exams, and then we began to bring in more nurses. So now there are actually eight of us; three of us still doing exams and five nurses still in training.

“Yes, we do start the counseling process and that begins, first thing out of our mouth when someone discloses, ‘I have been assaulted’ is by telling them, ‘I believe you.’ That in itself is huge,” Antonelli added.

According to Antonelli, unless a child — in which case they must report it to the proper authorities by law — victims may remain anonymous, too.

Antonelli described how the exam does not just serve as evidence collection, but rather a comprehensive analysis of the victim and the services they will need following the SANE’s work.

“Just every type of resource that [the victim] may need, we do our best to put them in contact with,” Antonelli said.

In addition, the MWSA also provides sexually transmitted disease prevention and pregnancy resources.

“I fear that we are still missing many opportunities to assist victims due to them not knowing that help is available,” Antonelli stated.

MWSA’s mission statement reads: “Meet the needs of assault victims by providing trauma-informed, compassionate, culturally sensitive and comprehensive forensic evaluation and treatment by trained, professional nurse experts with the parameters of Colorado State Law and the SANE standards of the International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN).”

For more information about the program, contact becky@mtn

From September through November, all proceeds from Brighter Smiles, Brighter Futures will go toward helping fund the MWSA program. Brighter Smiles, Brighter Futures is put on by Glenwood dentist Dr. Corey Johnson, who donates profits from teeth whitening to charities.

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