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Forensic nursing at Via Christi Hospital St. Joseph

Via Christi Forensic Nursing, located at Via Christi Hospital St. Joseph, participates in a community-based collaborative response for all victims of sexual assault. We provide immediate medical care, forensic examinations, advocacy, patient follow-up and assistance with criminal justice services in an ethical and compassionate manner. The team boasts 70 years of combined experience.

The forensic nurses at Via Christi provide care to approximately 350 patients per year. The majority are victims of sexual assault; however, we also work with victims of child abuse, domestic violence, elder abuse, human trafficking and any violence-related injuries. Via Christi has partnered with law enforcement and many other community agencies to meet the unique needs of these victims.

State-of-the-art digital equipment allows photo-documentation of injuries to be securely transferred to law enforcement agencies and the District Attorney's office. The ability to provide images immediately to prosecutors has allowed several cases to be charged within 48 to 72 hours of the assault. 

With child abuse victims, the forensic nurses work in coordination with Child Abuse Pediatrician Specialists, to provide immediate and follow-up photo-documentation, and participate on the multidisciplinary team caring for the child.

Four nurses are nationally certified as Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners through the Forensic Nursing Certification Board, with one also being certified in pediatric sexual assault examinations. Training is regularly provided for nurses from other communities in Kansas who are establishing SANE/SART programs. The Via Christi program, the first of its kind in the state remains the program of choice for providing local and state training and guidance.

Background on violence and sexual assault

Nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population has experienced some form of violence. Sexual violence is a major cause of injury and trauma. According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS), Nearly 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men in the United States have experienced an attempted or completed rape in some time in their lives. Most victims of sexual assault know their attacker. Nationally, 73 percent of victims knew the attacker, in Kansas 90 percent knew the attacker (NSVRC and KBI data).

Sexual violence, stalking and intimate partner violence are major public health problems in the United States. Many survivors of these forms of violence can experience physical injury, mental health consequences such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and suicide attempts, and other health consequences such as gastrointestinal disorders, substance abuse, sexually trans­mitted diseases and gynecological or pregnancy complications. These consequences can lead to hospital­ization, disability or death.

Human trafficking initiative

Human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world today, often operated by organized crime syndicates. Traffickers use force, fraud or coercion to enslave their victims into situations involving sexual exploitation or forced labor. Human trafficking is a devastating human rights violation, is seen as a form of modern day slavery, and takes place not only internationally, but also here in the United States.

Via Christi Forensic Nursing Services played a key role in developing a protocol, the first of its kind, for medical professionals to recognize and assist victims of human trafficking who present to the hospital for care. The program was recognized by U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom for the development of the medical protocol and training front line care providers.