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Pennsylvania Senate passes bill to expand treatment for sexual assault survivors

Matt Rourke

Seeking help as a sexual assault survivor can be a difficult experience. Finding care that treats a patient’s individual needs while not contributing to the stigma surrounding sexual assault is a challenging process.

Pennsylvania lawmakers are trying to make that better.

A bill that passed the Senate aims to give survivors easier access to treatment by expanding "SANE,” or sexual assault nurse examiner, programs.

The legislation, titled “The Sexual Assault Emergency Services Act,” passed the Senate unanimously. It will fund hospitals wishing to establish SANE programs granting survivors more opportunities to seek patient-centered care.

Under the SANE program, registered nurses are required to have additional education to reach the guidelines set forth by the International Association of Forensic Nurses. The guidelines include an overview of forensic nursing, crisis intervention, specimen collection, legal considerations and judicial proceedings for cases that involve both adults and minors.

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The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Elder J. Vogel Jr (R-Beaver), said it's necessary for the well-being of survivors.

“Research has shown that trauma-informed, person-centered care delivered by SANEs results in improved psychological well-being of sexual assault survivors, increased quality of medical care and positive impacts on prosecutorial outcomes pertaining to sexual assault survivors,” Vogel said.

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center says 63% of sexual assaults go unreported to police. With SANEs and patient-centered care, survivors can be more inclined to report their assault, said Sen. Judy Schwank (D-Reading).

Schwank noted that under the new legislation, those in rural communities would still be able to access a high level of care via telehealth.

“At every step of the process, nurses work with individuals who have experienced sexual assault to explain exactly what they’re doing in terms of the medical examination, documentation of injuries, collection of evidence, infection prevention or treatment, and referrals to community resources and follow up care for a holistic approach,” Schwank said.

The bill will now go to the House for a vote.