Editor’s Note: This article is condensed from the National Judicial Education Program’s online curriculum, Medical Forensic Sexual Assault Examinations: What Are They, and What Can They Tell the Courts?,https://www.legalmomentum.org/training-materials/medical-forensic-sexual-assault-examinations-what-are-they-and-what-can-they-tell. It is printed with permission. A version of this article that contains endnotes is available from the author, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rape is an epidemic crime with grave consequences for victims female and male and those who identify as transgender. Few victims report and even fewer see the inside of a courtroom. When a sexual assault case does come to trial, there are often expectations about the kinds of injuries a “real” rape victim sustains, how the victim will present on the witness stand, the kind of medical evidence that will be offered and by whom, and what the medical evidence can “prove.” These expectations are often at odds with reality and undermine fairness in the trial process.
Role of the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE)
The findings of a medical forensic sexual assault examination and the testimony of a specially trained sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) can provide useful information to help the judge and jury reconstruct the events at issue. However, there are important legal limitations on the scope of SANE testimony, as well as limitations as to what the examination findings can actually prove.
The medical forensic sexual assault examination is first of all a medical examination focused on the patient’s immediate, short-term, and long-term health and safety needs, physical and mental. The examination integrates evidence collection into the medical examination because combining these steps is best practice from the viewpoint of patient-centered care, sparing the patient from a subsequent long and harrowing examination if she decides to report to law enforcement. SANEs report that many, if not most, of their patients want medical care, but do not engage with the criminal justice system.