Specialized nurses and physicians provide care for sexual abuse and domestic violence
Unfortunately, sexual violence is prevalent in the U.S. One in five women and one in six men will experience sexual violence as the victims of rape, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC).
Intimate partner violence (IPV), which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines as “violence or aggression that occurs in a close relationship,” is a pervasive problem, also. Nearly one in five women and about one in seven men have experienced a severe form of IPV in their lifetime, according to the CDC.
The Inova Ewing Forensic Assessment and Consultation Team (FACT) helps victims and supports the criminal justice system to address this widespread problem following incidents of sexual abuse, domestic violence and other forms of assault. Below, Mary Hale, director of the FACT Team at Inova, discusses the team’s role in the community.
Q: What is the FACT Team at Inova?
MH: It is a team of specially trained nurses and physicians who provide medical care and forensic evidence collection for adult and child victims of sexual and physical violence.
If adult patients feel they’ve been the victim of a sexual assault, they are able to receive a forensic exam, medications to prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and advocacy services whether or not they have reported the incident to law enforcement.
Once patients come through our door, everything is at no cost to them. All of our services are covered by the Virginia Victims Fund and the Virginia Supreme Court.
Q: Why is it meaningful that Inova offers forensic exams?
MH: Domestic violence is very complicated. It can be emotionally hard and, at times, more dangerous for a victim to try to leave a situation. It may take a long time before he or she is ready and able to make that break.
Having access to a domestic violence forensic exam, even if the victim is not ready to engage with law enforcement yet, can help create a medical, legal record of the abuse experienced so that when they are ready to take action, there is proof of the trauma they have been living with.
This can be very important when it comes to child custody. It can also be important depending on someone’s immigration status. If applying for a specialized type of asylum as a victim of domestic violence, having that documentation for court hearings can make a real difference.
Q: Who’s on the FACT Team at Inova?
MH: We have registered nurses who have received more than 80 hours of specialized training, as well as six to eight months of orientation before they perform exams on their own. Our forensic nurse examiners may spend up to four hours with a patient, taking the time needed with each person. The nurse does a combination of crisis intervention and medical assessment, as well as forensic documentation.
William Hauda, MD, is our medical director on the adult side. He’s an emergency room physician who also has specialized training in assessing child physical abuse. Katherine Phillips Deye, MD, is a pediatrician with a subspecialty in child abuse and maltreatment. She is one of fewer than 300 pediatricians in the U.S. with that subspecialty.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like members of the community to know about the FACT Team?
MH: Having our nurses able to focus exclusively on this work as their sole job makes such a difference. This team is available 24/7, which means that when someone in our community is victimized, they are not either having to wait 12 hours or more to get an exam or drive extreme distances to access services, both situations can often result in a victim saying, ‘Forget it, I don’t want to do it.’
Not having the forensic information, in turn, can impact the criminal justice investigation and reduce the ability of law enforcement to hold offenders accountable, which means continued risk for the victim and the entire community.
Not only does the work we do support empowerment and healing for adults and children who’ve been victimized — hopefully minimizing the long-term negative life consequences — but it also is such a critical component for community safety.