DA supports new program aimed at boosting evidence in sexual assault cases

The St. Charles Parish District Attorney’s Office is collaborating on a program aimed at training local nurses to work with sexual assault victims and improve evidence gathering.

The SANE program dates back to the 1970s when nurses saw services to sexual assault victims were inadequate and unequal in emergency treatment related to sexually transmitted diseases or becoming pregnant.

DA Joel Chaisson II agreed with the importance of specially-trained nurses for this role.

“Initially, exposure to law enforcement and properly-trained medical professionals can be crucial for a victim and prosecuting authorities,” Chaisson said. “It is very important to have that initial contact be with someone specially trained to understand the psychological impact of a sexual assault, as well as someone trained in the collection and preservation of evidence.”

SANE will provide better access to nurse examiners.

Chaisson said assault victims (adults and children) in the parish, as well as neighboring parishes, are currently sent to New Orleans for SANE or forensics nurses.

The victims can be relocated several times in the evidence gathering, which can hamper prosecution. It can also confuse victims, as well as add considerable cost to a case. Chaisson agreed getting this done locally “would be a logistical advantage for victims and law enforcement.”

The program will be a collaborative effort by Terrebonne, Lafourche, Assumption, St. Mary, St. John, St. Charles and St. James parishes.

The SANE program has been expanded to include a team effort with law enforcement, prosecutors, counselors and healthcare providers.

LSU’s Health New Orleans School of Nursing also recently received a $1.3 million grant to increase access to nurse examiners for 12 southeast parishes including Terrebonne, Lafourche and Assumption, the university said in a news release.

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