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Recent national news has pushed the trauma of sexual assault into the spotlight.  Lancaster General Health’s specially trained Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner (SAFE) team strives to provide compassionate care to victims of sexual assault.

Lancaster General Hospital’s Emergency Department is the only one in Lancaster County to provide forensic services for sexual assault.  SAFE nurses are registered nurses who have completed specialized education and clinical preparation in medical forensic care of patients who have experienced sexual assault or abuse. Some of the nurses at LGH also have National Certification in Forensic Nursing.

The SAFE nurse’s primary concern is for the patient’s physical and emotional well-being.  Evidence collection is important, but the patient’s medical needs are always the first focus. LGH’s SAFE program began in 1999. Since its inception, SAFE nurses have completed 1,050 sexual assault exams, and the program has seen an annual increase in reported cases of 10 to 15 percent. Nationally, it is estimated that only 30 percent of all sexual assaults are reported. The SAFE program sees that the annual increase in local cases and exams is due to increased awareness and reporting. Prosecutions of sexual assaults could not occur without these forensic exams that seek and collect evidence.

SAFE exams not only provide physical evidence to be used in the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault, they also give the patient the opportunity to receive treatment of possible injuries, prevention of diseases and access to follow-up emotional and physical care

Currently LGH has 14 specially trained nurses on the SAFE team. The team is part of the Lancaster County Sexual Assault Response Team (SART). SART is a multidisciplinary team that includes victim advocates and counselors, law enforcement, district attorneys, Children & Youth Services, local colleges and the Lancaster County Children’s Alliance.

The YWCA Sexual Assault Prevention and Counseling Center (SAPCC) operates the 24-hour sexual assault hotline (717-392-7273). The program also provides medical advocates to provide emotional support to patients during the safe exam. The SAFE team encourages all who have been examined to take advantage of the free counseling offered by SAPCC to continue the healing process after a sexual assault.

To read more about this initiative and dedicated team, click here.

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