DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Nurses at Parkland Hospital in Dallas are helping victims of sexual assault regain their power, and in some cases, find justice.
It’s happening inside a simple yet safe space considered a ‘no judgement zone,’ where both women and men can heal. Most people don’t even know it’s there, and few people have access to the exam room where SANE program supervisor Lovette Robinson works. SANE stands for Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner.
“We start the whole thing, by believing the patient. I take the patient exactly at their word — no investigation,” explained Robinson.
SANES like Robinson are the first line of defense for victims. When a patient reports a sexual assault, the specially trained forensic nurses perform a thorough exam, and collect and store evidence to make sure it can be used if a victim wants to report the crime to police.
“We want to find out if there are any bruises on the patient’s body. Are there any injuries? We’ll take pictures if the patient allows,” explained Robinson. “This is not a job for everybody and it’s a special person who will get the job.”
If a case goes to trial, SANES may be called to testify. But they don’t pressure victims to file a case and they educate them about their choices.
For 20 years Wanda Davenport has counseled men, women and children at Parkland’s Rape Crisis Center.
“Sexual assault is about taking power and control away from a person and it’s so important to give that power and control back to them,” she said.
Sexual assault does not discriminate, impacting 2 in 5 women and 1 in 5 men. In fact, Robinson’s specialty is male sexual assault.
“We had a young Marine come in, big guy… 6’2 trained to kill. And he looked at me and said ‘doc I need to talk to you,’ ” she said about one of her patients.
After an assault most victims want to feel clean. Once exams are complete, the room is all theirs.
“I know what it took for them to come in and even admit they were assaulted… they’re looking for someone to believe them,” said Robinson. “A lot of times being in the shower is very cathartic for them. We will let them sit, letting water cascade on them.”
For Robinson, her work isn’t “just a job”… it’s a calling where forensic science and human compassion meet. And she has a message for rape survivors.
“Nothing that happened was their fault. It absolutely isn’t. Please come in and let us take care of you.”
Robinson is training 13 more nurses to add to the team. SANES work alongside advocates from the Rape Crisis Center to make sure victims get the support they need; providing free services to Dallas county residents.
And with the sobering statistics — every 98 seconds someone is sexually assaulted – plus, only 6 out of 1,000 perpetrators end up in jail, according to the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault — SANES are needed now more than ever.