New SANE Center at Texas Health Dallas Gives Nurses Training to Treat Sexual Assault Victims

DALLAS — As a case worker for Child Protectice Services in the early 1990s and an ER nurse at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas for the last 15 years, Rachel McAllister had seen the devastating effects of sexual assaults and child abuse.

“First and foremost you want to care for the patient and be sure they’re OK,” she said, “but there’s also a big part of you that wants justice for the victim.”

The way to do that sounds simple enough: become certified as a sexual assault nurse examiner. SANE nurses, as they’re called, are known throughout the country as a key component to putting sex offenders behind bars. They’re specially trained in evidence-gathering techniques that preserve forensic material for court proceedings. Armed with better evidence, prosecutors are better able to take offenders off the street.

Sounds easy enough. But in addition to her full-time schedule in the Texas Health Dallas ER, McAllister has a teenage daughter. For years, the closest SANE training center was in San Antonio.

“I had to put it out of my mind,” she said. “I wanted to do it, but there was no way it was going to happen.”

Today, McAllister’s dream is becoming a reality with the opening of the region’s first-ever SANE training program at Texas Health Dallas.

“This is a really powerful moment for me because I know this will make a difference in victims’ lives,” McAllister said recently as she took her spot in the first-ever SANE training program in Dallas.

The SANE training program is available to nurses throughout the region and all parts of Texas thanks to a generous $2 million grant from the W.W. Caruth Foundation of Communities Foundation of Texas.

In addition to funding the SANE training program at Texas Health Dallas, the grant will help with the construction of Dallas County’s first Sexual Assault Forensic Exam (SAFE) Suites. The 2,900-square foot space, called the W.W. Caruth, Jr. Center for SAFE Healing, will be housed in the Texas Health Dallas emergency department and will provide comprehensive treatment for sexual assault victims.

“This is an exciting time because we know that the SAFE suites and our SANE nurses will help better care for victims of sexual assault who come to our hospital,” said Loren Larkin, BSN, a nurse educator in the Texas Health Dallas ER and director of the program. “And the training program will allow nurses from other parts of the region to take this special training back to their hospitals, where victims can be better cared for in those communities.”

Until now, Dallas has been the largest city in the nation without a certified Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program and an independent rape crisis center, according to a 2008 report by the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault.

A 2009 Department of Justice report revealed there is a 95 percent increase in successful prosecution of cases where evidence is collected by a SANE certified nurse.

“Dallas is long overdue in creating a place of comprehensive support for sexual assault victims that will also help see their attackers are prosecuted,” said Douglas D. Hawthorne, FACHE, CEO of Texas Health Resources. “We are proud to join with these community organizations to provide this vital service to our community.”

Certification in the SANE program requires more than 180 hours of rigorous training for registered nurses. This includes more than 60 hours of classroom education and more than 90 hours of clinical training. SANE nurses are also required to perform a specified number of supervised patient forensic exams and observe 16 hours of criminal court proceedings.

“The coursework includes training in various aspects of a sexual assault case,” Larkin said. “The nurses learn everything from how to care for the patient when they arrive in the ER to proper evidence collection to how to dress for court when they’re testifying.”

Department of Justice statistics reveal that one in every four women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. Statistics show that fewer than 18 percent of sexual assault cases are reported to law enforcement. Dallas County, with a population of more than 2.5 million, had only 459 sexual assault cases of victims age 17 or older reported to the Dallas County District Attorney’s office in 2008.

“Perpetrators of sexual assault are most often repeat offenders, every time we can assist local authorities in prosecuting a case, we’re potentially helping dozens of would-be victims,” said Cole Edmonson, MS, RN, FACHE, NEA-BC, vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer at Texas Health Dallas. “That helps to make our community a safer place for everyone. Just as importantly, SANE nurses are trained to care for those who are victimized in a compassionate, professional way that helps begin the healing process.”

The grant will also support the Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center (DARCC), which provides free advocacy and counseling support and programs for sexual assault victims and their families. DARCC services include post-trauma counseling and advocacy, as well as sexual assault education in local high schools and universities. The Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center is the first independent rape crisis center in Dallas.

“It’s exciting to know that each year more and more nurses will get this important training,” said Courtney Underwood, president of the Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center. “It will help countless victims in the coming years.”

Since the 1970s, law enforcement organizations across Dallas County have referred all sexual assault victims to one local hospital. Sexual assault victims could be medically treated at other Dallas medical centers — but for forensic evidence to be collected the victims have had no choice but to travel to to this one hospital, prolonging the process for victims.

Texas Health Dallas and the Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center (DARCC) have worked closely with law enforcement and the district attorney’s office to provide a more comprehensive program that not only treats, supports and advocates for victims, but helps bring their attackers to justice.

About Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas
Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas is an 898-bed acute care hospital and recognized clinical program leader, having provided compassionate care to the residents of Dallas and surrounding communities since 1966. U.S. News and World Report has ranked Texas Health Dallas among the nation’s best hospitals in digestive disorders, orthopedics, and neurology and neurosurgery. An affiliate of the faith-based, nonprofit Texas Health Resources system, Texas Health Dallas has approximately 4,000 employees and an active medical staff of more than 1,000 physicians. For more information, call 1-877-THR-WELL, or visit