YWCA offers new option to victims of sexual assault

By Curtis Wildfong • Last Updated 9:57 am on Thursday, November 14, 2013

For 17 years, the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) West Central Michigan has provided a private medical setting to assist and treat victims of sexual assault and now the Grand Rapids-based organization has branched those services out to Montcalm County.

Beginning in April of last year, the program offers victims highly trained nurse examiners and victim advocates to provide recently victimized women with physical exams as well as someone to talk to.

The main goal?

“It’s an effort to take the sexual assault victim out of the hectic, chaotic emergency room,” said Patricia Haist, director of clinical services and the nursing examiner program for YWCA. “Sexual assault victims would be waiting for hours.”

And not only that, she added, emergency rooms can’t always provide the necessary medical attention to victims as doctors race between patients. And because of how busy emergency rooms are, it can be intrusive for patients, who are often barely separated from other patients.

The nurse examiner program, which operates in Montcalm County through a local doctor’s office, offers a much different kind of setting for victims, one far more private. And victims are not required to report anything to police, although they are encouraged, Haist said.

“Just having the privacy and assurance of confidentiality, that this is not going to go anywhere unless you want it to go to police,” she said. “Taking it out of the chaotic setting just makes so much sense. We definitely see the benefits in really extensive ways.”

And not just the change in surroundings, but the services offered are far more extensive.

All the nurses are registered nurses who also underwent additional training specific to medical care for sexual assault victims and evidence collection. Advocates are also trained in providing care and providing a support system for the victim.

“Having this comprehensive outreach has been really important,” Haist said. “There really has been a ripple effect. The care victims receive is extensive.”

Greenville Department of Public Safety Director Mark Reiss said he’s seen the impact of the program on victims, but also the effect it’s had on law enforcement.

“I’ve had experience with these programs and they are invaluable, just from the perspective of the victims.” he said. “I think it goes a long way of making the victim whole and I think they do a much better job than a detective could do. I think they do more of an affective job for the victim, which helps us focus on capturing the suspect and the law enforcement side.”

The service is available to anyone 13 years or older and is free of cost. An exam is available for up to four days after the assault.

Up until last year the service wasn’t available to victims in Montcalm County. After the success the program saw in Grand Rapids and realizing the need spanned far beyond the urban cities, YWCA created the satellite programs in both Montcalm and Ionia counties.

“We learned that the same issues are being experienced in Ionia and Montcalm counties,” Haist said. “We explored the opportunity of being a facilitator in Montcalm County.”

So in April 2012 the program launched and has since served dozens of people. Anyone wishing to schedule an exam is asked to call 1-800-720-7233.

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