Since 2018, more than 30 sexual assaults were reported in Salem County.
For those victimized, the minutes, hours and days following the incident can be a traumatic – and fragmented – nightmare. But a little-known Salem County program – SART – represents the best in community partnership ensuring a professional, compassionate and holistic approach in caring for those who’ve suffered from sexual assault.
SART – the Sexual Assault Response Team – is a multidisciplinary program that brings Salem Medical Center, the Salem County Prosecutor’s Office and the Salem County Women’s Services together to assist and facilitate all aspects of a sexual assault — from initial treatment to collection of forensic evidence, to personal support and recovery, to legal prosecution.
“This is a program that makes a real difference,” said SMC Interim Nursing Director Denise Dorre-Meyers, BSN, RN. “SART has all the critical pieces, ready to go, at a moment’s notice. We have dedicated space, equipped with the appropriate supplies needed to conduct a thorough examination. The room is quiet, warm and welcoming, and always in a state of readiness.”
A key aspect of the program is a specially trained nurse in the collection of forensic evidence—a certification known as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE).
Toni Lou Cataldi, BSN, RN, FN-CSA, said forensic nurse examiners offer compassionate, prompt care to victims of sexual assault.
“SANE nurses assess and evaluate injuries that a victim has suffered,” Cataldi said. “A forensic nurse will also locate, collect and package forensic evidence relevant to the crime, and provide information or referrals regarding the victim’s continued care. They have a profound effect on the criminal justice system and public at large.”
The moment a sexual assault is reported, the SART team is called to action.
“Every ED Nurse is trained to activate the SART program when a victim enters the emergency department. Our staff starts the process,” Dorre-Meyers said. “There are several nurse examiners on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Dorre-Meyers said. “Every part of the team goes into action immediately.”
In addition to dedicated and properly supplied space in the hospital, and the expert guidance of a certified nurse to oversee the process, a victim of sexual assault is assigned a personal liaison to provide a helping hand during the weeks to follow.
“We’re present at the very beginning—whether at the hospital or police station, we accompany them through the exam if they choose, and stay with them afterwards to help pick up the pieces,” said Executive Director of Salem County Women’s Services Lori Davenport.
The Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner evaluates and treats the patient in a holistic way, being mindful of both the acute and long-term consequences of sexual violence victimizations, said Cataldi. “The Nurse Examiner can gather a culturally and developmentally appropriate medical history of the assault, with an essential understanding of the medical and legal implications of both.”
While sexual assault can be a horrifying experience, the Salem County SART program is an essential part of helping the victim recover and move on.