In the past few days, an online petition for the Engemann Student Health Center to employ a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner has gained traction among students.
The SANE qualification is a forensic specialization for personnel trained to conduct sexual assault exams for rape victims. According to the petition, the nearest location that has these specialists is at the UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica — a fact that is concerning USC students. Proponents of the petition say that traveling more than 30 minutes to an unfamiliar location can be a burden on victims.
Holly Blair, a freshman majoring in English, started the petition on Nov. 5 after a Title IX coordinator spoke at her sorority, Delta Gamma, and was unable to respond when asked why there isn’t a SANE team at USC. Blair also said she was spurred by a personal connection, which motivated her to include an anecdote in her petition.
“One of my friends believes she was roofied at a party, so she wanted to check if she was sexually assaulted but was told that she could not do so on campus. With all the work to promote awareness about sexual assault, it’s really strange that we have no resources on campus to administer a rape kit,” Blair wrote in the petition.
Blair is aiming to get at least 1,000 signatures on her petition, which currently has almost 700.
Many students have been surprised to learn that USC doesn’t already have SANE. Hannah Maluyao, a sophomore majoring in public relations, expressed disappointment that USC didn’t already have such a center.
“USC is a world-class institution, so it’s kind of ridiculous to me that we haven’t employed a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner,” Maluyao said.
The Engemann Student Health Center declined to comment.
Francesca Bessey, the associate director of Wellness Affairs for Undergraduate Student Government, said that it was common for schools not to have a SANE center and that colleges usually outsource to resources in the area.
Bessey also pointed out that though the Santa Monica Rape Treatment Center is housed in the UCLA Medical Center, it is actually an independent body operated by the Rape Foundation.
“They are considered the leader, not only in the area, but in nation in providing care for victims of sexual assault,” Bessey said. “So it’s actually a very good place to send students, and one of the great things they do is that they offer free transportation.”
Similarly, Vice Provost for Student Affairs Ainsley Carry said that USC currently provides a sufficient response for victims of sexual assault. He emphasized that there is a fundamental difference between treatment and examination of forensic evidence.
“Treatment is what we have right now at Engemann,” Carry said. “If a student was a victim of sexual assault, we can offer counseling services. If a student suffers physical injuries, we can treat that. If a student needs the morning-after pill, we have that. If a student is infected with a S.T.D., we can treat that. We have a treatment protocol available for students who are victims of unwanted sexual contact.”
As for examining forensic evidence, Carry explained that the process to determine if a sexual assault occurred is a rather extensive scientific process.
“A rape kit means the collection of semen, DNA, body wounds or blood tissue samples,” he said. “The forensic collection of sexual assault is a science. And certain protocols have to be performed for this material to be accepted as evidence in a criminal investigation. We do not have a team that does forensic work so that is where we connect to the Santa Monica Rape Treatment Center.”
Carry also said that this is a time-sensitive process. It becomes more difficult to obtain forensic evidence the longer a victim waits and becomes especially more difficult if the victim takes a shower or discards the clothing he or she was wearing.
Carry said he doesn’t think it’s practical to duplicate such a system at USC when the Santa Monica Center is already one of the most renowned facilities in the country.
Carry did, however, mention the possibility of the Keck School of Medicine of USC developing such a forensic team in the future as an extension of the Violence Intervention Program at Keck. This program, headed by Dr. Astrid Heger, mostly deals with forensic exams in the cases of child abuse but is, according to Carry, looking to expand its scope to college students in cases of sexual assault.
For the moment, Carry suggested students take advantage of the fact that the Santa Monica center is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He said that the Dept. of Public Safety or the Los Angeles Police Department should work with the assault victim to bring him or her to the center immediately after the incident.
Bessey thinks the petition reflects a misunderstanding of the breakdown of communication between first responders and sexual assault victims as the root of the problem.
“It really emphasizes the importance of explaining to students the options that they have in detail and making sure that the first responders are educated and are able to make the students feel comfortable,” she said. “Because if not, then you have a problem right from the get-go regardless of what kind of resources that the university may or may not offer.”