Comforting a stranger on one of the worst days of their lives, is difficult for most anyone to imagine. But, for sexual assault nurse examiners on SANE nurses this is part of their everyday. When someone comes to a hospital emergency room and reports an assault, SANE nurses are called in offer medical and emotional support. The patients they treat are on their way to becoming survivors.
“They are survivors. They have actually incurred something that most of us could only ever imagine just how detrimental that it could be,” explained Crystal Mitchell, ER Director, CHRISTUS St. Frances Cabrini Hospital.
CHRISTUS St. Frances Cabrini Hospital in Central Louisiana currently offers the only Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program throughout eight parishes the hospital serves. Last year, five nurses provided unbiased, medically-based, forensic exams and aftercare to 134 survivors in the area.
April marked Sexual Assault Awareness Month, but for SANE nurse Duana Juneau, awareness is important every day. Juneau found a creative outlet in photography, and recently advocated for these survivors with a photo finish; relating their stories through the imagery of 134 pairs of shoes strategically placed and photographed throughout Central Louisiana. The project is called “The Shoes”
“I wanted these images to make an impact. Sexual Assault can and does happen to anyone, without discrimination based on age, sex, race or gender. I am mindful of the vicarious trauma this position can carry, and this is my creative outlet to tell the 134 survivor stories,” said Duana Juneau, CHRISTUS St. Frances Cabrini SANE Nurse and photographer.
Several images in the project represent the majority of current survivors: female, ages 18-35. The CHRISTUS Cabrini SANE team is currently partnering with local universities to advocate and provide education to young women about safety and protection in situations that could result in a sexual assault.
Continuing to overcome the impact of COVID-19 in the many rural and isolated areas of Central Louisiana, Mitchell feels that cases handled through the SANE program are under-reported and that there are more individuals in the area in need of help – not just in the form of a forensic exam but the next steps for healing. Beyond meeting the medical need, SANE nurses bridge the gap for survivors in finding them behavioral health resources and connecting local law enforcement as needed.
Mitchell also explained the impact COVID-19 has had on the smallest survivors, making pediatric sexual assault even more of a reality.
“Our pediatric survivors depend on community resources like our school counselors, teachers and nurses. This in-person awareness matters, and these incidents and concerns become reportable.”
The SANE program and need for services provided continues to grow in the region. For these nurses, fulfilling CHRISTUS’ mission of extending the healing ministry of Jesus Christ now stretches beyond forensic exams and sexual assaults; as cases of elderly abuse and neglect, child abuse and neglect, and intimate partner violence continue to rise.
“Our next step is to partner with local law enforcement to be able to provide services for a larger population,” said Mitchell.
Every 73 seconds in the U.S. someone is sexually assaulted…every 9 minutes that victim is a child. A pair of shoes serves several purposes for the person wearing them but beyond fashion or comfort, most pairs are protection from whatever that person is walking on or through. These SANE nurses are “The Shoes” for these SURVIVORS; providing care and a voice for advocacy in this region.
“God is a safe-house for the battered, a sanctuary during bad times.” Psalm 9:9 (MSG)
“The Shoes” project can be viewed from the CHRISTUS ST. Frances Cabrini Facebook Page.
Covered in the Alexandria Town Talk, Juneua let reporters know ‘The Shoes’ exhibit shows sexual assault victims can be anyone and how she had to have some way to get the story out of the vicarious trauma all SANE nurses carry as they help their patients with dignity and compassion.