Getting SANE

Sexual assault survivors now have safe haven

SHIPROCK

Special to the Times | Ray Landry
Forensic exams can be completed at the Northern Navajo Medical Center, but patients can choose whether to use evidence kits in the judicial process.

From the outside, a tiny room on the lower level of the Northern Navajo Medical Center looks just like any other.

From the inside, however, the 240-square-foot room serves as a safe haven for survivors of sexual assault. The room, unveiled last week, is the hospital’s first sexual assault nurse examiner room, a place where survivors can receive compassionate care and specially trained nurses can gather forensic evidence.

The room, opened through a partnership with the Farmington-based organization Sexual Assault Services of Northwest New Mexico, promises a “comprehensive healing experience,” said Dr. Jean Howe, an obstetrician-gynecologist at the hospital. Doctors and nurses will work “carefully and collaboratively” with survivors to provide the care they need.

“After assault, people experience emotional turmoil,” Howe said during a blessing and dedication ceremony held in the room last Wednesday. “This room lets survivors know we take this seriously. It gives them space where they won’t be alone and where they can decide whether to pursue legal avenues after an assault.”

Dedication of the room comes as the Indian Health Service has grown increasingly aware of the issue of sexual assault, said Howe, who has worked on the Nation for about 20 years. Two decades ago, care for survivors was lacking.

“There was no comprehensive care, no real healing,” Howe said. “We have now seen an evolution. Survivors can come and experience healing, justice, compassion and supportive care through the whole process.”


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