Friday, March 7, 2014

Student Spotlight : Natalie Beaty at the Philadelphia Sexual Assault Response Center

By Natalie Beaty

The Philadelphia Sexual Assault Response Center is a crisis center for people who have been sexually assaulted. I worked there several days during my Women’s Health Ambulatory Medicine clerkship. While there, I worked with Ralph Riviello, M.D. and Mike Boyle, a retired SVU lieutenant, as well as several Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE), who oriented me to the center. They also trained me on the process of reporting a sexual assault crime, performing a forensic exam, and legal aspects of sexual assault cases.

The first thing that struck me is the set-up of the PSARC facility – it is directly attached to the Special Victims Unit of the Philadelphia Police Department, so it is easy for victims to arrive to the station by 911, give a statement, and then be evaluated by a SANE. This model of sexual assault center location aims to minimize wait times and maximize privacy and comfort for victims. It also eliminates the need for victims without medical injuries that need immediate attention to go to an Emergency Room with long waits to be evaluated. It was implemented through the work of Dr. Riviello and many others, and it is clear to me that the new center provides a calm, clean, safe place for victims to be examined and get information. This is a model which is in place in some cities nationwide, and which hopefully provides a good national model for sexual assault forensic analysis.

The volume of the center was a strong reminder for me about how prevent sexual violence is in our society, and of how important it is for young doctors to be aware of how to help these patients. Since opening in May 2011, the PSARC has handled over 1,000 cases. The center recently moved to 300 E. Hunting Park in August, 2013, and have handled over 40 cases just since that time. One excellent resource I learned more about is Women Organized Against Rape (WOAR). When a victim comes in PSARC, WOAR will be contacted and will come in to speak with the victim after the forensic exam. They provide immediate counseling as well as accompaniment of victims to court, an invaluable service which helps victims navigate the court process. We, as medical trainees, can screen patients for violence, and if they are positive, we should be prepared to refer them to WOAR as a resource.

Working in the PSARC is a unique experience because it allows the student to learn about and interact with police, nurses, and social outreach workers as part of a comprehensive team. You sit in on interviews with victims when they come into the center, participate in the examination, and, importantly, provide reassurance and support to the person in their time of need. The experts at the center give valuable insight into the history of sexual assault response teams, as well as their insight into these crimes that has been developed over decades of experience. Feel free to contact me with any questions you may have.

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