AUSTIN (KXAN) — It can be the most harrowing time in a person’s life – experiencing sexual violence.
While trying to cope is never easy, the University of Texas at Austin is working to remove barriers for survivors seeking help.
Students can now get a Sexual Assault Forensic Exam (SAFE) on campus, free of charge. It’s something the university has been wanting to offer students for years, but it hasn’t been feasible.
Through the new service, SafePlace will send a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) to the campus if a student requests an exam.
“It’s a building that many students walk by every day,” said UT Senior Nicole Chu, who’s also a medical advocate for SafePlace. “Hoping that means a few more students will walk in and get the exam, if that’s what they chose is right for them.”
SANE’s are able to provide the most comprehensive exam to patients. If the survivor chooses to pursue legal action, evidence collected can help their case.
“A person may not be in the best position when they’re traumatized, to make a decision about whether they want to go forward with pressing charges,” said Jamie Shutter, Director of University Health Services. “This allows them to have the evidence collected, so that they can leave their options open into the future and make the decision when they’re in better place.”
Shutter says time is of the essence for survivors seeking a forensic exam. It can only occur within the first 120 hours (five days) after a sexual assault with police involvement and 96 hours (four days) without police involvement.
They ask survivors not to shower, bathe, brush their teeth or even eat food prior to the exam.
“The majority of our students live closer to campus and so hopefully this will be a more convenient location and just have less barriers for students in terms of accessing the exam,” said Shutter.
Chu says she became an advocate after a friend experienced sexual violence. She says the work can be emotionally taxing, but is extremely rewarding. “I’ve just been blown away by the resilience of some of the people I’ve met in an exam room.”
Chu says survivors control the process at every stage. If they start an exam and choose to stop, they can do so.
Texas law requires all hospital emergency rooms to offer sexual assault patients a forensic exam, however they’re not required to have it administered by a SANE.
Hospitals like UMC Brackenridge say patients are best served going to facilities like SafePlace where they have a comprehensive SANE program.
As far as which universities offer SAFEs, Shutter only knows of a handful. But she says several states are looking at mandating through legislation that college campuses provide the service, however doesn’t believe Texas is one.
The exams are completed at the UHS facility during business hours, Monday-Friday 8:00 a.m.- 5:30 p.m and Saturday 11:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m (during long semesters).