Forensic nurse Amy Smith says most victims of sexual assault are reluctant to recount details of an attack in the immediate aftermath, let alone undergo an exam or report the crime to police.
"They may not be ready at that moment to discuss it, or they may not remember because they've just been through a trauma,” Smith said. “And so their brain is protecting them and they'll say, 'I don't remember what happened after that.' And they'll have, you know, huge gaps."
It's Smith's job, and other nurses trained to administer sexual assault examinations, to create a safe space and collect evidence from the victim's body.
The federal Health Resources and Services Administration wants to see more certified examiners in hospitals around the country, so this fall it awarded $8 million in grant funding to 20 different institutions, including Northwell Health's Nursing School at Hofstra University.
From swabs to hair pulls, a full exam can take upwards of four hours to complete.
Having a nurse trained in emotional support to limit any additional trauma can make all the difference.
"Not only are they reliving through their words and through their memories what just happened to them, but now you're saying, ‘You have to let me touch you here and swab you here,’” Smith said. “So, you know, I’m still a stranger [to them]. So you really need to make a connection quickly and have that person understand you're an expert in this. We're going to help you get through this."
Smith previously created a sexual assault training program at Lenox Health Greenwich Village which is now a state-designated SAFE hospital, meaning it has certified sexual assault forensic examiners.
With the grant funding, she will be able to train 75 more nurses throughout the Northwell system, including at Lenox Hill.
"I think that this will have wings,” Smith said. “It will take off and we will just continue to train people."
Smith says there are about 300 SAFE nurses in New York.
All 11 city-run hospitals are designated SAFE facilities, with 45 certified forensic providers.