Choice: This is the foundation of Susan’s work with women and girls who have been sexually assaulted.
Susan is the coordinator of the Forensic Nursing Services at Abbotsford Regional Hospital, one of Fraser Health Authority’s two forensic nursing programs. Susan and her team provide emergency medical care following sexual assault. They test for infections, provide medication to prevent disease, update vaccinations, care for injuries and collect forensic evidence.
Many women who come to the hospital following an assault are afraid and overwhelmed. They are faced with important decisions about their health and safety. “They don’t know what to do. We can’t make the decisions for them, but we want them to feel supported. That’s where we have a fabulous partnership with Surrey Women’s Centre’s SMART team. SMART members are often explaining these options to patients.” Women are empowered to make informed decisions.
Choices are given at every step of the process. Susan reminds her patients of this the moment they arrive at the hospital. “Even though they’ve consented to start with, anything can change. During the exam itself even, they can change their minds. We make sure that they know it’s all their choice.”
During the critical period following an assault, a woman must make decisions about her immediate health and safety. She is also confronted with decisions about whether or not to report to police. Susan explains that most women know their assailants. This makes it more difficult to come forward about the abuse. Susan assures women that this choice is theirs, “If you want the police here that’s fine, we’re going to help you through that. If you don’t want them, I can get them to go away, but that doesn’t mean you can’t report to them later when you feel up to it.” Forensic evidence - a blood sample, a urine sample, a piece of clothing, a swab or anything else that might help in proving a crime – can be collected and stored for up to one year. This gives a woman time to plan her next steps before reporting to the police.
Susan knows how important this piece is. “If people think that they have to report, then they often stay away.” Without this care, women are at risk of unwanted pregnancies, potentially dangerous infections, and other long-term health effects.
Through this partnership, women who have been sexually assaulted are given the tools and information they need to ensure their long-term safety and well-being. “We work seamlessly with the SMART workers to ensure that a woman feels safe and supported during her time at the hospital. We also have the reassurance that the SMART team will provide follow-up supports for women as they begin the healing process.”
Susan and her team work with women whose experience of violence has taken their control away. Together with SMART, Susan and her team provide the information, supports and services that help women take that power back again.