Specially trained nurses help survivors of sexual assault


sexual assault ED
Last year, the Salem Health Emergency Department (ED) saw 114 patients for sexual assault. “I think it is likely there are double that in our community,” said Diane Branson, ED nurse and coordinator of the hospital’s sexual assault program. “Research shows sexual assault is vastly underreported.”

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives. In eight of 10 cases, the survivor knows the person who sexually assaulted them.

“If you are a victim of sexual assault, it is not your fault,” said Branson. “It does not matter if you’ve been drinking, you are on drugs, you liked the person, etc. If you say NO, no one has a right to do it.”

For survivors of sexual assault, it is important to get out of the situation, go to a safe place and call a friend, family member or someone you trust for support.

If you are considering reporting the assault to law enforcement, it is best if you:

  • Do not bathe or shower.
  • Do not comb or brush your hair.
  • Do not change your clothing.
  • Do not clean up the area the assault occurred in.

When you come to the ED, you will be taken to a quiet place quickly. Salem Health has 15 specially trained sexual assault nurse examiners on staff who can explain your options and support you in your decisions. They can provide you with a forensic exam, collect evidence and provide you with medications to prevent infection or unwanted pregnancy.

“This is a difficult time for patients,” Branson said. “It is hard to talk about things. We listen and are just there for them. It is all about the patient and what they want.”

Sexual assault nurses are trained and certified by the Oregon State Board of Nursing and must be recertified every three years. Extensive study and exams, and time in the district attorney’s office, a crime lab and with local law enforcement, are included in their certification submission.

“People don’t ask to be attacked,” Branson said. “It is not their fault. We want to help get them through this to feeling safe again.”