Why hospitals and police point sexual assault victims to the YWCA

Yesterday, a news report was aired about a victim of sexual assault’s unfortunate experience in attempting to access medical-forensic services.

Without exception, a victim of sexual assault gets to determine the course they take when seeking care. Their wishes should be respected.

By nature, news reports are condensed, often oversimplified representations of much more complex circumstances. We are concerned that, as presented, the report and its accompanying headline left victims with the idea that they will not receive the level of care they need and deserve. In effect, victims – who may already be hesitant to come forward for a number of reasons – may be left feeling discouraged from reaching out. The online response to the report confirms this.

The response to the news report also demonstrates the tremendous need for greater awareness and education within the broader community.

Locally, there is a resource designed specifically to empower sexual assault victims and meet their unique needs. The YWCA Nurse Examiner Program is our community’s chosen response to sexual assault. It was created over 20 years ago in collaboration with the three major local health systems, law enforcement, the prosecutor’s office, and victim services.

The YWCA Nurse Examiner Program is not just another option for victims. It is, in fact, the best option for victims. And it is up to all of us – media included – to make that known to victims.

Nurse Examiner Program services are best practice and this is our standard in the Grand Rapids metropolitan area. We are fortunate that our community has done the work to make our response one of the most expert, victim-centered, and comprehensive in the state.

This is how it works:

The YWCA Nurse Examiner Program is a 24/7 on-call service.

A victim calls the YWCA’s 24-hour helpline (616.454.9922). The nurse examiner and advocate will be ready within an hour, often less, but the nurse will work with the victim to coordinate a time for the exam that works best for the victim. A nurse and an advocate will meet the victim at the YWCA. At the time of the exam, the nurse provides related medical care, conducts the medical-forensic exam, collects evidence, and ensures the chain of evidence for the rape kit is maintained. The advocate provides support and information, and can connect the victim to counseling and other services. It’s free. It’s confidential. It’s in a secure, private space. It’s one-on-one, uninterrupted care. There is no requirement to report to law enforcement. The victim can stop the exam at any moment.

If a victim first goes to an area hospital emergency department, they will be evaluated by the hospital’s medical staff. This can often take some time because hospital staff are also caring for a number of patients with a variety of critical, medical needs. If a victim first contacts law enforcement, an officer can take their statement and connect the victim to the YWCA. At any point, the victim can contact the YWCA directly.

To victims, know this: We want to make sure you’re okay, that you know you’re not alone, that your medical needs are taken care of, that all evidence is expertly collected so that you may decide if you want to report to law enforcement, and that you’re connected to resources like counseling and support groups. That tomorrow, next week, next month… whenever and wherever you need support, you know it is available and accessible. The support is not limited to the exam.

A rape kit in itself is not care.

The collection of evidence alone is not our community’s response.

Our community’s response is supporting the victim with the pantheon of needs that a rapist has burdened them with. The burden on our community is ending the culture that develops and enables rapists while keeping their victims feeling isolated and without options.

The confidential helpline at the YWCA is available 24/7 at 616.454.9922 (454.YWCA). To read more on the Nurse Examiner Program and see a video tour of the facility so you’ll know what to expect, visit ywcawcmi.org/our-services/sexual-assault