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At the Hospital

Knowing what to expect when you go to the hospital can help to reduce your anxiety about going to the hospital.

Registration and Triage

  • The admitting clerk will ask for your name, date of birth, address, and hospitalization number.
  • You will then see a triage nurse who will ask a few questions about your reason for coming to the hospital. You need to tell the triage nurse only that you were sexually assaulted. You do not need to provide other details at this time. The triage nurse may ask a few general questions, such as if you regularly take any medications or have any allergies.
  • The triage nurse will try to quickly place you in a private room or area, away from other patients waiting to be seen.
  • Any interview with doctors or nurses or police about the sexual assault will be done in a private room.

Primary Nurse

  • You will be seen by the primary nurse assigned to the room, who will take your vital signs (heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate).
  • You will remain in your clothing.
  • You will be asked if you have any injuries that are bothering you and a doctor may examine you before your sexual assault examination.
  • You will not be given any food or beverage because eating and drinking may affect your exam.
  • You may be asked if you want a sexual assault advocate called.
  • If you must go to the bathroom, your nurse will collect a sample of your urine and ask that you not wipe yourself vigorously.
  • You may have to wait for your examiner to begin the forensic examination.

Sexual Assault Examiner

In some regions, a specially trained registered nurse may be called to provide your care. The nurse may be called a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE), Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner (SAFE), or Forensic Nurse Examiner (FNE), depending on where you live. These nurses have additional specific training which enables them to provide excellent care to patients who have been sexually assaulted. If there is not a sexual assault examiner at the hospital usually the emergency room doctor will conduct the exam. Your examiner will answer any questions you have. Feel free to ask anything; no questions are unimportant.

At this time you need to decide if you want to just be treated medically or if you want a forensic examination. In most places a forensic examination will not be done unless you are reporting the assault to the police. In some places a forensic exam will be done and you can wait until after it is complete to make the decision to report and call the police.

Before you receive any treatment you will be asked to sign a consent form. Because there are health risks associated with sexual assault, you will still receive a complete medical examination even if you choose not to report to police.

The Medical Examination

Your examiner will ask you questions about your medical history and about the assault. Some of the questions may be a bit uncomfortable for you, but the examiner will allow you to take your time and speak as you are able. These include...

  • date of your last period
  • date of last sexual activity
  • method of birth control
  • details of the assault

A person from the hospital laboratory will collect blood samples to help determine your general health and to see if you have been exposed to HIV or Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C in the past. The results of these tests may be sent to Public Health. If you have not yet used the washroom, a nurse will ask for a urine sample for the lab.

You will then be examined for any injuries. When you are ready to begin the exam, you will be asked to undress and put on a hospital gown. Your support person/advocate may be present while you undress and for the remainder of the exam, if you choose. If police officers are attending, they will be asked to wait outside the room or behind a curtain for the duration of the examination.

After the examination you will be treated for any injuries. You may be offered an emergency contraceptive (“the morning after pill”) and antibiotics to prevent infection. An emergency physician will evaluate your overall health and risk and will discuss with you the use of medications to prevent HIV.

You may be given some written material to explain some of the physical and emotional changes that you may experience in the next weeks and months. A safety plan may be discussed with you. If you have concerns for your safety or that of your family, please speak to your examiner.

The Forensic Examination

A forensic examination includes a normal examination for injuries but is more complex. A forensic examination involves using a specific kit containing forms and supplies for the standardized collection of items suited for analysis by police investigators.

The entire process will take approximately two to five hours. You have the right to decline any portions of the exam or to change your mind at any point during the exam. If you decide you want to have a forensic exam you may want to have a friend or family member bring clothes to the hospital for you as some of your clothing may be kept for evidence.

If you consent to a forensic exam, you will receive a complete physical exam including...

  • collection of clothing
  • inspection for any foreign matter that may be on your body
  • the type, location, and size of injuries will be recorded in your patient record
  • a complete internal examination of any body openings affected by the assault (vagina, mouth, anus)
  • collection of external and internal samples for presence of sperm and DNA, when appropriate

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