Opinion

SANE nurses needed

South Carolina has one of the highest rates of rape in the nation. Sadly, there are only about 50 nurses statewide who are specially trained to examine rape victims.

Last year, 1,739 rapes were reported in South Carolina, making it the ninth-highest per-capita rate in the U.S., according to FBI statistics. But the rate undoubtedly is even higher than that: Rape crisis centers across the state receive thousands more calls than those reported to the FBI by local police.

Despite the obvious need, the state's Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner -- or SANE -- programs are sorely underfunded and grossly understaffed. And, with the current budget crisis, that is unlikely to change in the near future.

Officials with the office of Gov. Mark Sanford, who oversees the state Office of Victim Assistance, said they were not aware of the shortage of SANE nurses. And, they added, finding extra money for the programs would be difficult.

But even with current budget woes, failure to adequately support these programs is shortsighted. One of the most effective -- and least costly -- ways to reduce the state's rate of rape would be to provide trained nurses to advise victims about their rights and how to proceed in pursuing charges against an attacker.

These nurses also are trained to serve as liaisons with police and legal advisers, and they can ensure that evidence is properly collected and preserved. They also can be called as expert witnesses at a trial.

SANE nurses are trained in interviewing rape victims and conducting forensic examinations, which includes taking pictures of injuries and collecting DNA evidence. Police are contacted if adult victims consent; hospitals are required to call police in cases involving victims younger than 18.

The certification training for a SANE nurse involves 40 hours of classroom time, nine months to one year of clinical experience and another clinical year to specialize in pediatric cases, plus time riding with police officers and six to eight hours of observing expert court testimony.

The state, of course, needs to take a multi-pronged approach to the problem of rape. In addition to improving law enforcement efforts and prosecuting attackers, the state must examine the underlying causes of such a high rate of rape, and address them as well.

But SANE nurses serve as an important link in the chain. They help victims to cope in an extremely difficult situation and enhance the chances of bringing rapists to justice.

Failing to fund programs to train more SANE nurses is false economy. Perhaps the money would be easier to find if more women served in the General Assembly.

IN SUMMARY

State should find money to train nurses who specialize in dealing with rape victims.

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