Heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition

Michigan State University Aims to Train Nurses to Treat Sexual Abuse Survivors

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Image credit: Michigan State University

MSU’s Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Certification program will begin in January.

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The Michigan State University College of Nursing aims to double the number of qualified nurses who can treat survivors of sexual abuse in the state. The Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Certification, or SANE-certification program, has been federally funded for three years and will begin in January. 

Katherine Dontje, the project lead and an associate professor in MSU’s College of Nursing, says as a practicing nurse, she has seen what can happen long term to sexual abuse survivors who do not have access to SANE-certified nurses or simply are afraid to speak out. 

Katherine Dontje, SANE project lead and associate professor at MSU: Basically, I’m a nurse that’s been around for a long time. But I am a family nurse practitioner; I’ve had an emphasis on women’s health. And I see how these kinds of things, even early on in life, can impact their health long term. We have a lot of data that shows that victims of sexual assault are more likely to have problems with depression, anxiety, and often even other kinds of health conditions, including obesity and hypertension. And so it does really play into long-term health concerns.
 
“We have a lot of data that shows that victims of sexual assault are more likely to have problems with depression, anxiety, and often even other kinds of health conditions, including obesity and hypertension. And so it does really play into long-term health concerns.” —Katherine Donjtje, Michigan State University
 
Tia Graham, WDET: So what’s the focus or emphasis on rural areas?

That’s because as of now, in most areas of the nation, and particularly in Michigan, the sexual assault nurse examiners that are out available to individuals are primarily in urban areas and big areas. The goal here is to really expand that right now. According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, there’s only about 22 of the 83 counties that we have that are served by SANE nurses. And the majority of those that aren’t are in the rural areas, particularly in northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.

What should prospective nurses know about being certified or becoming certified?

Basically, there are three components to becoming a SANE-certified nurse examiner. And the first is a 40-hour didactic, in other words, educational component that’s going to be provided online and in an interactive way to provide the most access to individuals. That’s followed by a two- to three-day clinical skills experience, where they’ll come to campus and practice the skills that are needed as part of the examination. And then the final component is actually clinical hours; they’ll be spending time with other SANE nurses and doing some exams within those experiences.

Can we talk a little bit about the distinction between victim versus survivor and why it’s so important to use the different terms?

I think it’s very important to talk about survivors. … When you think about it, it makes it a very different perspective. And it also helps the individual. In terms of sexual assault victim, [it] really doesn’t give them much power but survivor does in terms of they’re going to be able to move forward, and we’re going to help them in that journey.

Why is it so important that this particular program has partnered with the Michigan State University School of Social Science in order to promote survivors to reach out for help?

And I think that’s one of the things that we’re planning to certainly expand upon. And I think that’s why Michigan State is a perfect place to do this because there’s been a real emphasis on reaching out to sexual assault survivors. And we have a team of individuals including Dr. Rebecca Campbell, who has been working with sexual assault survivors and doing research on this area for a long time. We also have the newly established MSU Center for Survivors and the MSU Sexual Assault Healthcare Program, as well as we have linked with the Department of Health and Human Services Division of Victim Services who also do programs and reach out and monitor issues around sexual assault across the state.


Listen: The long-term impact of sexual abuse on survivors and how SANE-certified nurses can help.


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Tia Graham, Host, Weekend Edition

Tia Graham is a reporter and Weekend Edition Host for 101.9 WDET. She graduated from Michigan State University where is had the unique privilege of covering former President Barack Obama and his trip to Lansing in 2014.


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