NO Means NO or Seek a SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner)

One time, way back in my junior year of high school, I looked up the word prude in the dictionary. Now that might seem like an odd thing on which to enlighten myself, but when one is being called this, in the context of the situation at hand, she can only guess at its meaning. I defiantly said “thank you” to my short- lived boyfriend, went home and looked it up. Pride and anger kind of swirled around each other as Miriam Webster filled me in. Another time a boy told my friend, when she asked about our split, that I was “the kind of girl you marry, not the kind you mess around with.” What a shame. Those guys were cute, and, I thought, pretty OK.

I was lucky. The guys I dated in high school were OK enough to either listen to me and like me for me, or be on their way if they didn’t want to bother. But it isn’t always that way for girls and women. Being forced to perform or endure unwanted sexual activity can have serious effects on a woman’s emotions for a long time.

I may cop to understanding that provocative clothing and mannerisms can send erroneous messages, subconsciously or otherwise, to guys, and that’s a dangerous scene, but no matter how a girl might be dressed or is acting, NO means NO. Even if she wants it, too, if she says no, case closed. Nothing justifies non-consensual sex or sex acts. Nothing. Not clothing, not actions, not words, not mutual desire, not even love. I might get some backlash on this next one, but there is even such a thing as marital rape in some states. Women should not be slaves to men’s desires if they don’t want to be. NO means NO even in the marital bed. But ladies, if it’s a pattern with you, there is something wrong. Go and get counseling with your partner.

Enter the FNE, aka SANE.  I served in this capacity in my ER days many years ago at Nash General Hospital in Rocky Mount. My class was the very first of Forensic Nurse Examiners in NC, and it was by far the most dynamic and fascinating course I have ever taken. A week of concentrated learning was followed by hours of clinical experience with the police, counselors, in the courtroom, and actually using “The Rape Kit”, which is a box provided by the state containing everything one needs to collect physical evidence of a sexual assault for law enforcement. It’s a long, detailed process. Being a detail oriented person, a lover of justice, a caregiver, and a truth-seeker, this was right up my alley. Hair (clipped and pulled), saliva, blood samples, nail scrapings, any fibers, grass, loose hair, or other foreign substances or objects we could find all went into the envelopes and containers in The Kit. Meticulous documentation of anything the person could remember about the event was clearly and carefully charted on the pages provided in The Kit -no computers at that time.  Notice I said “person”, not woman. Yes, men get raped, too, and I’ve done a couple of those. Clothing, all of it, is removed while the survivor stands on a large white paper, is wrapped up, put into a paper bag and sealed for the police. I said survivor because that’s what they are – survivors. Doesn’t that sound more positive and hopeful than “victims”?

Now, as I haven’t done one in years nor kept up with the procedures, and because I had made this way too long, I’ll cut out the graphic details of the exam. Rest assured, we left no stone unturned. Anywhere. Skin staining for injuries, black light to check for the presence of semen, (or yogurt), a pelvic exam, pictures for identification and documentation of injuries. They all went into The Kit along with the other samples mentioned earlier. Then the sacred Box was glued to our sides until we could hand the untarnished evidence off to a police officer for the unbroken chain of evidence.

That’s awful, isn’t it,  but it’s just the beginning. A survivor may need months, even years, of counseling. Serial blood tests for HIV and Hepatitis B followed by breath-holding and sighs of relief when the last one comes back negative, or intense fear and anxiety paired with lengthy treatment if the result was unfortunate. Hormone pills to prevent a pregnancy are offered to women, but if religious convictions do not support this, then an unplanned pregnancy may be added to the rest of her worries. Another exam will be needed later on to test for other STD’s. If positive, treatment will be started and all sexual contacts must be notified.

Survivors tell their stories multiple times: to the nurse, sometimes a doctor, police, crisis counselors, long term counselors, family and friends, lawyers, and to a judge and jury if it goes to trial. The press withholds the names of survivors of sexual assault, but if it gets out through the grapevine, there may be more humiliation, even though it wasn’t the survivors “fault.

The SANE’s responsibilities do not end with sexual assaults, but include domestic violence and child abuse cases as well. A picture is worth a thousand words. These areas are even more upsetting to me. Women cannot, or will not, leave. They’re fearful, may have no means to support themselves and their children without “him”, or believe his repeated lies that he loves her, he’s sorry, and he’ll “never do it again”. Codependence. She can’t leave and he can’t stop abusing. I cared for a woman once whose husband was well-known and loved in the community, so her reports of abuse when unheeded. At a time when bangle bracelets were popular, she had a string of multicolored bracelets on her wrist, one for each time he had beaten her. That particular day she was covered in bruises. The most dangerous call police respond to is the “domestic”.

The children always put a pit in my stomach: the little boy who was burned halfway up his calves from a hot bathtub; the child with strap marks all the way across his back and chest; the little ones who knew words and language they never should in the innocence of the very young; the little girls who had obvious attempts at penetration on exam; and even the 11 year old girl found trying to have sex with a smaller 10 year old boy on a discarded mattress in a housing project. I remember her well. We talked a lot that night and I bought her a female developmental book, wrapped it, and took it to her school for her. She invited me to her sixth grade “graduation” and gave me a rose. I don’t think she had anyone else to give it to that day.

Girls, you can be strong. Say no and mean it. Say it and don’t back down. You are worth something, you ARE someone. Let no one steal your pride and dignity. You don’t belong to anyone but yourself. Stand up and be glad if you are a “prude”. Go look it up if you don’t know what it means and say “thank you” if someone calls you that. Be a proud prude. If he cares about you, he will listen to you. If he doesn’t want to listen, move on. He’s not worth it. More than likely, he will try to control you in other ways, too. If the worst happens and you can’t stop him, go to a hospital IMMEDIATELY for a rape exam. Time is of the essence for evidence collection. Don’t change clothes, shower, eat, drink, rinse your mouth or go to the bathroom before you go. I know it’s unpleasant, but you will need help, and the person responsible needs to be arrested. Please, though, do it only if it was a true coercion. Trying to get back at someone for whatever other injustices you think you sustained at his hand can ruin someone’s life forever. Don’t do it. On the other hand, if you don’t report a legitimate sexual assault, you will probably not be his last prey. Don’t let that happen, either.

Guys, come on. You’ll live. They’re not going to turn blue. Respect your girls and women. It’s not cool at all to force a woman to do what she doesn’t want. Maybe you and your buddies think it is, but it’s not. Besides, if she reports an assault and wins, you will be on the sex offender registry forever. Employers don’t like that. Neither do neighbors. You will always have to report your addresses, anyone can find out if there is a sex offender living in their neighborhood, and they won’t be happy. Your parents are going to be ticked and it will cost you, or them, lots of money. Don’t be stupid.

Ladies, it’s difficult, but NOT IMPOSSIBLE to get out. PLEASE, if any reader is in this situation, there is help. GET AWAY! You are worthy and deserving of a better life filled with love and respect. Love shouldn’t hurt. You can break the cycle of abuse.

Below are some sites that may be helpful to anyone in these situations. Write them down and keep them nearby. If you are in an abusive relationship, however, don’t let your abuser see them.

http://www.thehotline.org/ – Domestic Violence

https://hotline.rainn.org/online/terms-of-service.jsp – Sexual Assault

http://www.statisticbrain.com/rape-statistics/ – Sexual Assault  Statistics


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