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    Empowering sexual assault survivors through CRDAMC’s forensic resource gem

    Empowering sexual assault survivors through CRDAMC’s forensic resource gem

    Photo By Gloria Montgomery | One of the biggest advancements in Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center’s...... read more read more



    Story by Gloria Montgomery 

    Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center

    The #MeToo hash-tag movement, as well as the entertainment industry’s avalanche of alleged sexual assaults, is not only giving sexual assault survivors a voice, but it’s also elevating the visibility of victim resources, including Fort Hood’s hidden jewel: Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center’s Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Exam (SAMFE) program.

    “It’s definitely impacted SAMFE,” said, forensic nurse and SAMFE director, Sheilah Priori, who said the 2017 caseload for the victim-focused, evidence-collection program was more than double what it was the previous year.

    That increase, Priori stressed, represents a shift in the cultural bias that too often blamed and silenced its survivors.

    “It takes a lot of courage to report a sexual assault,” she said, adding that fear of retaliation and victim blaming were often the motivating factors that bought a victim’s silence. “Now, they’re more confident that they not only will be heard, but also that they will be respected and believed.”

    These trends represent hope and change for crime-victim advocates and counselors nationwide, including CRDAMC’s forensic team who is passionate about aiding and comforting every sexual trauma survivor seeking help.

    One of those survivors empowered by “Me Too” is a Fort Hood victim advocate and sexual response coordinator. Although she requested her name be withheld, she said the “Me Too” cries to be heard gave her the courage to come forward and seek help.

    “I knew that I had this dark secret, and as much as I was fighting for everyone else, I needed to fight for myself,” she said. “I finally swallowed my pride and made the call to the SAMFE nurse.”

    What she discovered from CRDAMC’s forensic team was compassion and understanding. They also referred her to a behavior health specialist, which she said, has slowly helped her heal.

    “It hasn’t been easy peeling back the layers of my traumatic experiences, but as long as I keep making that next step in the right direction, that’s the best that I can hope for,” she said, adding how grateful she is that others like her are able to seek help through the CRDAMC program.

    Survivor support from trauma to trial

    “Sexual assault has always been the subject no one ever wanted to talk about,” says Priori, who praised the social media hash tag for turning the whispers of sexual trauma survivors into roars of empowerment. “The SAMFE program returns control back to the patients by making it easier to seek medical care in a safe place.”

    Launched in 2014 as part of the National Defense Act that mandated assignment of forensically trained sexual assault personnel to military units, Priori and her team provide 24-hour services, seven days a week to TRICARE beneficiaries 14 years and older, as well as non-beneficiary victims of on-post assaults. The forensic response team also provides support to those survivors from trauma to trial.

    “We don’t just see our victims one time and move on,” said Priori, who admits that being a forensic nurse is not a “clock-in, clock out” type of job. “Because of the sensitivity that goes along with this type of exam, we spend a great amount of time developing a rapport and trust with our patient.”

    Before the Fort Hood program was developed, sexual assault survivors would have to journey to Baylor Scott and White Hospital for an exam.

    That 30-mile trek to Temple, said Lisa Lerma, CRDAMC’s sexual assault response coordinator, could be discouraging to sexual assault survivors.

    “Having to put someone into another vehicle to go all that way when he or she is still struggling with the fact they’ve been assaulted and violated would often be a deterrent,” she said. “The exam itself is never going to be easy, but having this asset in our own footprint with our own providers gives the survivor some sort of familiarity.”

    Forensic exams on suspects, as well as the team’s court testimonies, also have impacted conviction rates, according to Russell Hudson, assistant special agent in charge with Fort Hood’s Criminal Investigation Department.

    “There’s been an increase in prosecutions because of the physical evidence collected through the CRDAMC program,” said Hudson, adding that the forensic team provides a much needed viewpoint during court martials.

    Once the individual seeks help, the potential crime victim is escorted through the Emergency Department’s doors to a dedicated room with its own bathroom and examine area.

    “We do a head to toe physical, take pictures, collect evidence and swab body for DNA,” said Priori, a registered nurse who was instrumental in developing CRDAMC’s program and training the staff while a team member for Scott and White’s forensic sexual assault team.

    One of the biggest advancements in CRDAMC’s forensic-collection services, Priori said, is a less invasive, voice-operated camera with automatic adjustments.

    “We aren’t photographers; we’re nurses,” she said, praising the system for eliminating the requirement for the nurse to be technically proficient in camera operations, which could become a problem in court.

    Each image is digitally secured to protect it from manipulation. If summoned for court use, the survivor’s identity is preserved.

    Even if a survivor has no intention of filing formal charges against the perpetrator, SAMFE team members encourage visual documentation consent.

    “It’s important for the patient, whether they report it or not, to still consent to evidence collection because it helps them seek justice later on if they do change their mind,” she said , adding that the camera also is an excellent tool for discovering undocumented medical conditions and tracking the trauma’s healing progression.

    SAMFE community resource

    A common misconception, Priori said, that prevents victims from seeking SAMFE services is a perceived timeline.

    “Most people believe they can’t be seen if they’ve taken a shower, or it’s been 24 hours since the assault. That’s not true,” said Priori, whose outreach activities include educating the local community about SAMFE resources, membership on domestic task forces, speaking at conferences and training law enforcement teams and Fort Hood unit victim advocates. “We’re a community asset, so we use every opportunity we have to embed ourselves where we can to get the word out about our program and services, as well as to dispel some of those myths.”

    Recently, SAMFE expanded its services to survivors of domestic violence. Although the program is currently limited to strangulation cases, Priori said CRDAMC’s goal is to expand the program to all potential victims of crime, including gunshot wounds.

    “Sexual assault and domestic violence is happening at Fort Hood, and having even one person trust us speaks volumes,” said Priori, stressing that even though survivors may be embarrassed and have difficulty talking about the abuse or assault, it’s beneficial to them to at least know the options and the available resources. “Yes, we know something terrible has happened to you, but we’re going to take care of you and provide you with the medical treatment you need.”

    Reporting the crime to authorities is one of the most important steps anyone who has been sexually assaulted can do because control has been taken away from the perpetrator, stressed CRDAMC’s sexual assault response coordinator.

    “By coming forward as a survivor and reporting what happened empowers the survivor because they are now are the ones who are in control of their body from that point forward,” said Lerma.

    How to get help

    If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted you can visit the emergency department at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center.

    CRDAMC certified sexual assault medical forensic examiners provide care 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to individuals who have experienced sexual assault. TRICARE beneficiaries 14 years and older can be evaluated in the emergency department up to one week (168 hours) following a sexual assault. Patients receive a complete sexual assault exam with evidence collection. The decision to report to law enforcement is up to the patient. Confidential services include: medication to treat sexually transmitted infection, pregnancy prophylaxis, follow up behavior health counseling, continued medical treatment and care.

    Contact the Charge Nurse or the On-Call SAMFE at 254-288-8114.
    Please refer general questions to 254-553-8745.



    Date Taken: 05.01.2018
    Date Posted: 05.07.2018 11:26
    Story ID: 275976
    Location: KILLEEN, TX, US 

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