Walker County officials and the Sam Houston State University Nursing Program are working together to create a certified Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner course at the university following last year’s state law requiring hospitals to provide correct services for sexual assault victims.
Charmin White, assistant professor of Nursing at SHSU, is heading the creation of the course, according to a Walker County judge, to resolve the issue that could lead sexual assault victims to not get required services. For years, victims of sexual assault in Walker County could not go to area hospitals and were sent to Conroe or The Woodlands for testing.
Nicole Wilkes, SHSU Crime Victims Institute Research Associate, said that the lack of a certified nurse leads to additional problems that victims should not have to face.
“Imagine being turned away from the one place that you thought you could count on,” Wilkes said. “This can further traumatize victims and cause them to shy away from reporting the crime all together. No one in that emotional state should have to drive that far, and most don’t, to receive the testing that is difficult enough to go through as it is.”
SHSU contributes to a growing Walker County with more than 18,000 students, raising the demand for a nurse experienced in sexual assault cases.
Walker County Judge Danny Pierce said that this has become a serious issue and needs to be dealt with in a timely manner.
“We are by no means a small town anymore,” Pierce said. “With 68,000 people this is certainly something that Walker County needs. Testing needs to be done by a certified individual, and they’re getting real close to making that happen. There is going to be an adequate supply of certified people here and time is of the essence in a situation like this.”
Pierce said that he is not sure when the course will be approved, but he expects that it will be fairly soon.
The Texas law requiring hospitals to have a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner went into effect in September, but victims in Walker County are still being directed to hospitals in Montgomery County, Pierce said.
Senate Bill 1191 was implemented after the realization that several victims across Texas had to drive hours to the nearest examiner in order to have the evidence properly tested.
The bill states that “a health care facility that has an emergency department shall submit to the department for approval a plan for providing the services required to sexual assault survivors who arrive for treatment at the emergency department of the health care facility.”
The bill also states that “a person may not perform a forensic examination on a sexual assault survivor unless the person has the basic training and education.”
The Obama Administration established a task force in January because of studies showing one in five college women were survivors of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault. Universities and the surrounding communities need information and support services sexual assault victims need, the press release calling for a task force stated.
Pierce said that in addition to affecting prospective students, it also affects current SHSU students.
“Seventy-One and just in Walker County, men, women, and children, were raped during 2013,” Pierce said. “Not all of these situations are reported and that’s been an ongoing concern forever. A lot of kids are here with their parent’s financial support, and they may be fearful of reporting it because they may know their attacker and what influence it will have on them. Their parents may want to remove them from school and bring them home. This is especially true with freshman. They’ve left home for the first time and they’re around drugs and alcohol, which of course makes events like this easier to occur.”
According to the SHSU crime statistics, only four sexual assaults were reported in 2013. All four occurred in residence hall buildings and there were zero reports of sexual assaults off campus and in non-residence hall buildings on campus.
Walker County and SHSU both provide services to assist sexual assault victims and promote awareness. In addition to the nonprofit SAAFE House of Walker County, SHSU has created several events including “Ignite the Night,” held during the month of April, Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Wilkes, who helps coordinate these events, says that they try and do their part but need the help of the community in order to make a difference.
“Unfortunately there are very few sexual assault examiners in Texas,” Wilkes said. “It’s my understanding that the nursing department at SHSU will be creating a course in the next year or so to train and certify students in this area. As advocates, we try to prevent sexual assault from happening by spreading awareness but having a specialist that can do the forensic testing when needed, would help the situation entirely.”
Walker County has not received any penalties or come under fire for not having a certified nurse because of their close proximity to Conroe and the lack of sexual assault nurse examiners statewide.