Forensic Nurse Examiners Comfort Victims, Gather Evidence in Assaults
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Forensic Nurse Examiners Comfort Victims, Gather Evidence in Assaults 

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Norfolk, Va. (August 6, 2010) Most of us think of nurses as caregivers, healers and comforters, but, crime fighters? While the role may be surprising, that is indeed the case for a dedicated, specially trained group of emergency room nurses at Sentara Healthcare who volunteer as Forensic Nurse Examiners.

A recent interview with the team of Forensic Nurse Examiners at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital’s Emergency Department, highlighted the vital skills and extensive training required to work with victims of sexual assault, intimate partner violence/domestic abuse and elder abuse. The Forensic Nurse Examiner’s goal is to capture evidence before it is destroyed by bathing, time constraints, or emergency surgery.

When needed, nurses take photographic evidence from the victims using a digital camera to document body injuries. A different high-resolution digital camera, linked to a computer, documents cuts, abrasions and bruises on a patient’s internal and external genital area. Another device called ALS (alternative light source) identifies bruising below the skin. “Most of the time these patients have been traumatized,” says Emergency Department Director, Rusty Bradfield, RN. “But we have to examine sensitive areas to gather DNA evidence and take photos of their injuries,” Bradfield continues.

At police stations, the Forensic Nurse Examiner gathers evidence from suspects as well. It can involve blood samples, swabs of saliva and clips of hair, even giving up their underwear. If anyone refuses, police must secure a search warrant to force the issue.

Convictions have resulted from this timely attention to detail and DNA testing.

Learning to become an expert courtroom witness isn’t something that comes naturally to healers. “It’s intimidating to sit in the witness chair,” admits Forensic Nurse Examiner Angie Laing, RN, SANE-A. “But we prepare beforehand with the Commonwealth’s attorney.”

The program at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital has grown from 42 cases in 2006 to 90 cases last year. The program, works collaboratively with law enforcement, RESPONSE (women in crises organization) and the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office to provide education about sexual assault and intimate partner violence/domestic violence to healthcare providers, schools and the community.

Forensic Nurse Programs are also in place at Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center, Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center and Sentara CarePlex. The specially trained forensic team is on call 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week where each facility has dedicated space and evidence-gathering instrumentation to obtain samples and facts surrounding an incident.

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