BAR HARBOR — Health care professionals are often the first responders for survivors of sexual assault. To ensure a rapid, effective, compassionate response, Registered Nurse Vicky Eaton, an emergency room nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital, has undergone specialized training for the past 10 years to help victims cope with and overcome the physical and emotional toll of sexual assault.
“I feel strongly that it is important to provide local access to a coordinated, victim-centered response that emphasizes confidentiality and compassion,” said Eaton, a certified Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner (SAFE) nurse.
National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month takes place every April, and Eaton observes the month each year by speaking out to promote prevention and awareness.
“SAFEs are advocates for each patient, making sure they receive the best standard of care in each situation,” she said. “Each of us has been trained to provide comprehensive care for the sexual assault patient. We’re also trained to be an expert witness in court.”
Maine’s Attorney General’s Office administers the program, providing training and technical assistance for health care providers in the care of patients who have suffered sexual assault. The program also provides training in the use of the Maine sex crimes kit for collection of evidence.
Examiners are trained to perform medical forensic exams, minimize the patient’s waiting period to receive care and to collect evidence in a manner that meets state standards promoting successful prosecution. “We are also trained to provide compassionate care in an effort to reduce the trauma of sexual assault,” said Eaton.
Throughout the state, examiners are part of regional networks of sexual assault responders, known as Sexual Assault Response Teams (SART). Team members include local law enforcement, District Attorneys’ Offices, examiners and sexual assault advocates.