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Rape survivor stresses importance of nurses trained to handle sexual assault victims

Rape survivor stresses importance of nurses trained to handle sexual assault victims (WPEC)

In the U.S., one in five women are raped at some point in their lives.

That’s the reality, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

Right now in the Treasure Coast and Okeechobee County, the number of people who call in for help after a sex crime has spiked to 50 calls a month.

Barbara Faulkner, the Director of Victims Services and Sexual Assault Assistance Program for the 19th Judicial Circuit, said those are calls when an advocate has to physically respond and go to the hospital or wherever a victim is.

When a victim goes to the hospital, they can get a rape kit, which is a forensic exam done by nurses.

This week, experienced nurses were being trained to do those tests properly, as well as how to handle a sexual assault victim. They’re training to become Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners, also known as SANE nurses.

“Sane nurses are essential to the hospital setting because they off a level of care that’s different and people who are surviving sexual assault, coming in after a horrific attack, need something a little different. They need a little bit of a different approach," rape survivor Julie Weil said.

On Tuesday, she shared her story with these nurses. She explained how her SANE nurse made her experience bearable after she was abducted and raped.

“The SANE nurse I saw was a life saver to me,” Weil said. “After you’ve been through something like a rape and you’ve been touched against your will, it’s hard to want to undergo a physical examination. It’s hard to want to put on a gown and have somebody photograph your injuries and swap you and poke you and prod you. But the nurse I had was so gracious and patient and understanding and made me feel so secure that I was able to do that.”

For years, SANE nurses were scarce. Faulkner said 10 years ago, there were only four covering the Treasure Coast and Okeechobee County.

But now there are 40 trained.

Weil said this contributed to survivors not being cared for properly, which she said is one of the reasons why rape is so underreported.

“When they feel uncomfortable, it is easier to go home. It is easier to say it’s not worth it and because of that, we’re not getting the reporting numbers and we’re not catching enough of the people committing this crime,” she said.

To help victims become survivors, she created the Not Just Me Foundation. This foundation creates comfort kits for victims so they can feel a little better when they go to the hospital for a rape kit.

“I wanted to be able to comfort women in the dark moment and show them that there’s hope, that people believe in them and want to help them," Weil said.

She said she never would have made it without help from others.

“I had great first responders. I had a very responsive nurse. I had a State Attorney who kept going and going and going and encouraging me when I wanted to give up and that’s what you need. That’s why I call it the “Not Just Me Foundation” because it’s never just the survivor," Weil said.

Now, because of all that help and the evidence collected by the SANE nurse, her rapist is serving seven consecutive life sentences for raping Weil, as well as abducting her and her children.

“When a person knows what they’re doing and can put a victim at ease it’s easier to collect good evidence,” Weil said.

Weil said the Butterfly House was created in Palm Beach County. She said once this sexual assault care center opened, the number of rapes reported in the county tripled.

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