New law strengthens domestic, sexual violence response system

Gov. Phil Scott last Wednesday signed a law to bolster Vermont’s sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) program, housed at the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence in Montpelier.

Vermont’s sexual assault nurse examiners provide medical care and forensic evidence collection for individuals who report sexual assault, domestic violence and abuse. Nurses are specially trained to be eligible for certification as sexual assault nurse examiners. Fifty-three SANE nurses are currently based in hospital emergency rooms across the state, where they treat patients and collect evidence in accordance with a standardized forensic evidence collection kit.

Fourteen of those SANE nurses have additional training qualifying them to serve child victims of abuse. The new law improves Vermont’s system for providing this service and tracking related evidence by:

Expanding the SANE board’s role to include advising on statewide program priorities; training and educational requirements; a standardized sexual assault protocol and kit to be used by all physicians and hospitals in this state when providing forensic examinations of alleged victims; and statewide policy development related to sexual assault nurse examiner programs.

Adding the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health and a medical provider appointed by the Vermont Department of Health to the SANE board.

Requiring an agreement by Sept. 1 between the Vermont SANE Program and the Vermont Association for Hospitals and Health Systems “to ensure improved access to sexual assault nurse examiners for victims of sexual assault in underserved regions,” the bill states.

Establishing a study committee of six members with various organizational affiliations to examine the issue of kit tracking and produce a report by Nov. 1.

“The passage of S.95 marks a significant step forward for the sexual assault nurse examiners program in Vermont,” said Sarah Robinson, coordinator of the SANE program at the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. “Passage of this bill means that more sexual assault survivors statewide will be able to receive trauma-informed medical care in their own communities.”