Health & Wellness

A look into the nurses who treat sexual assault patients

NBC Universal, Inc.

Chenel Vanden Berk is a sexual assault nurse examiner at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, where she sees nearly 100 sexual assault cases each year.

“As big of a volume as that sounds, we know there's so many more out there,” Vanden Berk said.

She knows many sexual assaults go unreported. And for those who do come forward, the 13-step evidence collection kit can be daunting.

That’s why nurses with the sexual assault examiner training like Vanden Berk know to ask for consent before each step.

“She asks permission, like, for everything,” said a woman we’ll call Stacy. She spoke anonymously to NBC Chicago about her experience.

She met Vanden Berk when she went to Advocate Condell after she was sexually assaulted, then specifically went back to Condell, which wasn’t the nearest hospital, when she was assaulted a 2nd time.

“She's amazing. I wish there was a million of her,” the woman said.

Sexual assault nurse examiners not only care for people in the hours after the incident, but they also have legal training and can testify in court on the survivor’s behalf.

“I was a practicing attorney in Chicago with a focus on domestic violence,” Vanden Berk said.

She decided to switch to nursing and then underwent training to become one of the 98 sexual assault nurse examiners working at Advocate Healthcare’s 11 hospitals in Illinois.

“The emergency department not only has people that want to help, but that are specifically trained to help,” Vanden Berk said.

She wants sex assault victims to know to ask for a SANE (sexual assault nurse examiner), which she says is the aptly named acronym for her role.

“If being a SANE nurse can provide that stability and sense of safety and perspective in a world that has just been up-ended, that is truly an appropriate, I guess, description of what I am and what we do as SANE’s.”

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