There needs to be a better approach to victims of sexual violence

I am a nurse who has worked at a rural hospital. My husband is a board-certified family medicine doctor. In the fall of 2020, I was raped by my massage therapist. I know that everyone has an opinion of what they would do in that situation, and I was probably one of those people. However, to my complete shock (quite literally), I didn’t behave in any manner that I would have thought. Much to my embarrassment, I was a nurse who had no idea what to do when I was raped on top of the previously mentioned humiliation.

In all the shock, I made one goal: Go to a doctor. So, I called my primary care provider. The person who answered the phone was unusually loud over the phone. After asking what my reason for the visit was, I paused. I could not answer, so she told me that my provider had no appointments that day anyway.

 “Do you need the family medicine clinic, or is this urgent?” I honestly had no clue.

“Do you want to see a different provider?”

 “I need to see a female” was all that I could manage to get out, hoping that she would take the hint.

She didn’t. At all. She was starting to sound annoyed.

I just hung up. I couldn’t bear any more loud questions with a tone of annoyance.

So, I went to the next female provider that I could think of my OB/GYN. The number of people I had to tell what happened on the way to the room was overwhelming. My OB/GYN finally came in and asked what happened. She stopped me one sentence in. She asked if I was going to tell my husband (who she knew).

 I said, “No, I don’t want him to go to jail for killing someone who did this to me.”

“Are you going to report it?”

“No.”

Note: It was not even 24 hours after the fact, and I am learning that rape trauma syndrome is a very real phenomenon.

“I just wanted to check for ‘exposure things’ and maybe grab a kit at the same time in case I change my mind.”

 I did not understand the extent of rape kits. I’ve been told since by a sane nurse that they can take hours to perform. About 90 percent of them are done in emergency rooms. My doctor told me that they don’t do kits, but she could check me for STIs. She eventually performed the tests and swabs while I was teary-eyed. No way I was going to get another exam that day. Sitting in a crowded ER on any given day sounds horrible. Sitting in a COVID crowded ER sounds worse. She handed me a list of counselors and crisis networks. Things that included words like “Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.” I couldn’t even look at them. It made me sick. I didn’t want those words to describe me. I had tried my hardest with all my energy, and I couldn’t handle it anymore. I went home and took a shower.

Over the next several days, I started to think more. Clearly, I filed a report with the board of massage therapy. Then I told my husband. Then I texted the friend of mine that referred me to the massage therapist. He had apparently also raped her months prior, and she hadn’t told anyone until that day. He was indeed a serial rapist based on many things that he did; I decided to file a report to make sure that it did not happen to anyone else.

I recently read on RAINNs statistics webpage that less than one percent of rapes get prosecuted. Cases where sane nurses are utilized for forensic collections are more likely to make it to the end phase of prosecution. I keep going back to the kit and my interaction with all the ways I went about trying to get it until I was too exhausted. I’ve poured over articles on why rape kits are not more commonplace in OB/GYN offices and family medicine clinics. I never realized that for anyone who has the courage to admit sexual assault, they will then be told, “thanks for telling us, now go somewhere else.”

I explained to my husband that I thought that I could just explain to these non-ER providers how helpful having rape kits on hand would be. He made a great sigh. “They’ll never do that, honey. It doesn’t reimburse well; the cost is too high; it will take up one of the exam rooms they could use for other patients. Even if they wanted to, the clinic would never do it. It’s easier to tell the patients to go to the ER.”

It is not easier for the patient.

Fears of litigation hinder these providers from helping in situations like mine. I’m not judging health care workers. I know that they are overtaxed and underappreciated, but please tell me that I am not crazy if nothing else.

I now sit here with a lab bill from my OB/GYN for over $300 and a paper to be subpoenaed indicating that I must face the man who did this to me and explain why I didn’t just go get a rape kit.

If the trauma is severe, an ER makes sense. However, considering COVID-19 and how contagious it is, doesn’t a calm, quiet clinic with a provider that one knows, and a relatively healthy patient population make more sense? Don’t you think more rape victims would get a kit if that were where they went for a kit? According to Dr. Taylor Walker from Harvard Medical School Center for Primary Care, sexual violence increases during pandemics to the point where it becomes another pandemic within the pandemic. Surely there is a better approach to victims of sexual violence that also eases the hospitals’ burden during this pandemic.

The author is an anonymous nurse.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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