Specially Trained Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) Evidence Collection is More Accurate Than Non-SANE Nurses, Physicians
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SEXUAL ASSAULT EVIDENCE CONVICTION DNA CRIMINAL
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Growing reliance on DNA evidence in criminal trials, especially in sexual assault crimes, is placing increasing responsibility for evidence collection on emergency nurses who provide care for sexual assault victims. A new study shows that evidence kits collected by specially trained sexual assault nurse examiners provide more effective evidence collection compared with non-trained nurses and physicians.



Newswise - The growing reliance on DNA evidence in criminal trials, especially in sexual assault crimes, is placing increasing responsibility for evidence collection on the emergency nurses who provide care for the victim. A new study published in the December 2003 issue of the Journal of Emergency Nursing (JEN) shows that evidence kits collected by specially trained sexual assault nurse examiners (SANEs) provide more effective evidence collection compared with non-SANE-trained nurses and physicians. JEN is published bimonthly by the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA).

Crime analysts with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation completed audits on sexual assault evidence kits submitted to the bureau from October 1999 to April 2002. Commercially prepared evidence kits contain swabs, envelopes, slides and slide holders, and other tools used to collect and preserve evidence for analysis at a crime lab. Of the kits audited, those completed by SANE nurses were more accurate and complete when compared with those prepared by non-SANE nurses and physicians. Researchers found that evidence kits prepared by SANE nurses were more likely to have a completed chain of custody (92%) compared with non-SANE-collected kits (81%). SANEs were also more likely to have properly sealed individual specimen envelopes (91% vs. 75%), to have labeled the individual specimen envelopes (95% vs. 88%), and to have included the appropriate number of blood tubes (95% vs. 80%).

Sexual assault nurse examiners are registered nurses (RN) who have advanced education and clinical training in the forensic examination of sexual assault victims. Part of the purpose of SANE programs is to avoid traumatizing the victim again in the emergency department, while collecting crucial physical evidence needed for investigation and analysis in the crime lab. SANE programs were established by nurses in the mid to late 1970s in Minnesota, Tennessee, and Texas, and have rapidly spread to other parts of the United States. SANE nurses in Colorado receive 48 hours of classroom education, followed by 90 hours of clinical practice.

Study co-author Sherry Murphy, a criminal investigator with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, points to a situation which demonstrated the quality of the work performed by SANEs: "DNA analysis of the oral swabs in one specific case resulted in limited interpretation. The anal swabs gave no profile. However, the SANE had also collected swabs from the victim's chin. That sample was the only one that provided a complete, nonmixture profile of the suspect. The suspect pled guilty upon admission of the test results. This meant that there was not only a conviction, but the victim did not have to testify in court. The defendant in this case was sentenced to 48 years in the Department of Corrections. We have come to expect top quality collection of samples from the SANEs in Colorado and are rarely, if ever, disappointed."

Study author Valerie Sievers, MSN, RN, CNS, CEN, SANE-A, a clinical forensic nurse specialist, points out that additional research is needed to document the expertise and value of SANE programs. "Despite the growth of SANE programs in Colorado and across the country, more needs to be done to evaluate the impact of forensic nursing in the areas of healthcare and criminal justice. It isn't enough to say that SANE programs make a difference - we need to illustrate that fact in order to secure funding, promote forensic education and ensure a comprehensive health care response to victims of crime and interpersonal violence."

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The Emergency Nurses Association (ENA) is the only professional nursing association dedicated to defining the future of emergency nursing and emergency care through advocacy, expertise, innovation, and leadership. Founded in 1970, ENA serves as the voice of its more than 23,000 members and their patients through research, publications, professional development, injury prevention, and patient education. Additional information is available at ENA's Web site, at www.ena.org.
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