The Delicate Nature of Caring for Sexual Assault Patients

An American is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds. No matter your specialty, the odds are high you will treat a victim. Keep these things in mind, when you do.

This week, the hashtag #BelieveSurvivors has trended heavily across all forms of social media, due in part to the claims of sexual assault levied against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Politics aside, as a nurse, there is a strong likelihood you will encounter sexual assault patients during the course of your career, given that an American is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. That prevalence means that even if you aren’t a forensic nurse examiner or don’t work in emergency or psych, it is important that you be equipped with an understanding of how to handle the unique emotional aspects of sexual violence, as well as a practical approach to caring for the victim.

While every sexual assault patient you encounter will be inherently different from the next, keep these things in mind, as you provide them with care:

  • Check Your Judgment at the Door: It is not your place to assign blame, especially not upon the victim. The task of assigning blame comes later; that is a legal process. No matter the physical or mental state your patient appears to be in—be they male or female or drunk or in a state of undress or crying hysterically—it is not your place to criticize them in any way. It is your place to help them and give them the care they need in a safe environment, free of skepticism, while documenting everything from injuries sustained to their mental state in an unbiased manner. Be mindful of your tone, actions, and facial expressions, and most importantly, listen to the patient.
  • The Victim Comes First: The comfort of the sexually assaulted patient should be paramount. Consult with the patient to conclude whether or not a gender preference of caregiver exists, and respect those wishes, if so. It is your responsibility to advocate for the patient’s needs, and this may require a level of patience and a time commitment your other patients do not demand of you.
  • Be Compassionate: As a nurse, compassion likely courses through your veins, and in this instance, that is a very good thing. Above all else, allow your humanity to shine through, while maintaining your professionalism. Believe them, empathize with them, put yourself in their shoes—after all, given the statistics, they could very well be you.

Disclaimer: The viewpoint expressed in this article is the opinion of the author and is not necessarily the viewpoint of the owners or employees at Healthcare Staffing Innovations, LLC.