What is sexual assault?
Sexual assault is a crime that affects people of all ages, genders, ethnicities and economic classes. It includes:
- Forcing sexual contact through physical or psychological methods
- Tricking or pressuring someone to expose body parts
- Showing pornographic materials to minors
- Fondling, rape and incest
- Child sexual molestation
Helping survivors of sexual assault get help right away
When a sexual assault occurs, the shock and pain may make it difficult to know how and where to seek help. In fact, sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes in the U.S. Someone who has been sexually assaulted can go directly to any local emergency department to seek treatment. Penn State Health has programs to ensure sexual assault survivors can get the expert care they need exactly when they need it, no matter where they live.
Skilled nurses with specialty training
Examining someone who has been sexually assaulted requires compassion and special training to help nurses understand the high level of care needed, including sensitivity to the patient’s fears and concerns. These nurses are called SANEs - sexual assault nurse examiners. This specialty is person-centered, focusing on the needs of the patient in that moment, as well as providing longer-term options for care and support. To qualify for this training, nurses must:
- Be registered nurses or advanced practice nurses
- Be skilled in making thorough physical assessments
Trained Penn State Health sexual assault nurse examiners are currently on call at the following Penn State Health hospitals and also provide telehealth services:
- Hampden Medical Center, Enola
- Holy Spirit Medical Center, Camp Hill
- Lancaster Medical Center, Lancaster
- Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, Hershey
- St. Joseph Medical Center, Reading
Penn State Health’s emergency departments feature dedicated sexual assault examination suites designed to separate sexual assault patients from the hustle of the main patient triage and waiting areas.
High-quality care, everywhere
High-quality care for patients who have experienced sexual assault should be available everywhere, but some rural communities can’t support specialized medical practices. Through the Sexual Assault Forensic Examination Telehealth (SAFE-T) Center at Penn State’s Ross and Carol Nese College of Nursing, every hospital can have an expert nurse participate in and advise an on-site nurse on best practices for a sexual assault exam through telehealth technology.
The SAFE-T Center
The SAFE-T Center was launched with support from the U.S. Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime to improve access to high-quality sexual assault care in underserved communities. Here’s how SAFE-T Systems technology works:
- When a sexual assault examination is performed at one of our partner hospitals, one of SAFE-T Center’s expert sexual assault nurse examiners participates through telehealth.
- The expert Penn State Health nurse appears on a video screen and can talk to, and support, both the on-site nurse and the patient.
- Through our secure, private, digital telehealth technology, the sexual assault nurse examiner can also see the live exam in progress, ensuring best practices, proper evidence collection and a safe environment for the patient.
SANEs and the SAFE-T Center see patients who are age 13 and older. Report all suspected abuse of children under the age of 18, by calling Childline at 800-932-0313 for guidance, or report it electronically.
Working together to provide thoughtful care
During every step of the process, nurses work with individuals who have experienced sexual assault to explain their options, including reporting to law enforcement, medical examination and documentation of injuries, collection of evidence, infection and pregnancy prevention, and referrals to community resources and follow-up care. The team works together to provide patients with thoughtful, sensitive care.
Resources for survivors of sexual assault:
- Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape: or call 888-772-7227
- The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN): or call 800-656-HOPE (4673)
- 211 Pennsylvania - get connected, get help
- YWCA of Greater Harrisburg: or call the 24-hour crisis hotline at 800-654-1211
- YWCA Lancaster Sexual Assault Prevention and Counseling Center: or call the 24-hour sexual assault hotline at 717-392-7273
- YWCA’s Sexual Assault/Rape Crisis Services (SARCS) of Cumberland County
What is domestic violence?
While domestic violence can often include sexual assault, it is also abuse that is:
- Physical, including hitting, using weapons and throwing things
- Verbal, emotional or psychological, such as being highly critical, controlling, intimidating, isolating and threatening
- Financial, including withholding or lying about money
Giving victims of domestic violence a voice
Care providers in the Penn State Health system are trained to recognize signs of domestic violence, but it’s not always easy for the victim to talk about – often due to embarrassment and fear. Seeking medical treatment can be the first step to getting help. Penn State Health can connect patients with community resources that aid in escaping violent situations.
Resources for victims of domestic violence