Lafayette House is in need of specially trained advocates to work personally with victims of sexual assault who are admitted to the emergency room in a time of crisis.
Over a decade ago, the local advocacy center started its Volunteer Emergency Room Advocate Team to provide an additional layer of support for those who have experienced sexual assault and are receiving emergency care in local hospitals.
Advocates undergo 48 hours of specialized training and offer on-call assistance weeknights and weekends. Louise Secker, Lafayette House’s development director, said the advocates supply an array of crisis response services whether it’s counseling, emotional support, court advocacy or even just holding the victim’s hand.
“I think the volunteers have a really good experience with it,” Secker said. “They’re definitely our most highly trained and committed group of volunteers. Some of them have been doing it for several years.”
Mercy and Freeman hospitals in Joplin have a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program in which experienced personnel provide comprehensive care to men and women of sexual assault. The nurses play an integral role in making sure the victim is properly cared for and maintain exam results.
“It’s a recognition by all of the parties involved that there needs to be, what we call a trauma-informed approach to the victim, to make sure there’s a dedicated track where she’s not sitting in the emergency room and waiting,” Secker said. “There are nurses who are specially trained to do the evidence collection and protect the chain of evidence. It’s a really nice partnership, and it’s very victim focused.”
Karen Scott, board-certified sexual assault nurse examiner at Freeman, said the hospital’s program currently has four nurses on-staff and two more are undergoing training. Through the program, they’re able to provide free forensic exams to patients and can even pick up the cost of prescriptions, if they don’t have any other resources to pay.
Scott described how the SANE program has helped improve the overall collaboration and communication between various agencies involved in sexual assault cases like Lafayette House.
“We have a sexual assault response team, which consists of the SANE program, advocacy services from Lafayette House, law enforcement and the crime lab,” she said. “In the past, everyone kind of operated in a silo and nobody understood what the other people did.”
Studies that show if patients receive support and validation throughout the process, then they’re more likely to stay with the process as the case moves through the system, according to Scott.
“A lot of patients who have been sexually assaulted have a higher risk of post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic things like possible substance abuse, suicidal ideation, chronic migraines,” she said. “We find that the patients have better outcomes in the long run if they have the support and validation of a team behind them.”
Volunteer Emergency Room Advocate Team training courses will be conducted from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday, June 20, and from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Saturday, June 22, at Lafayette House.
The interactive training is free, and it will discuss sexual assault, domestic violence, crisis intervention and procedures.
“In the first session, we cover the basics of sexual assault and domestic violence, the type of clients we work with, the role of the advocate and how the whole process works, as far as responding to calls,” Secker said. “A current advocate does a Q&A with them.”
The second session will include tours of Freeman and Mercy hospitals, and volunteers will be introduced to hospital staff and protocols.