Time to talk about it

Jennifer Antony said Forensic Nurses Week is meant to raise awareness, not only about the work done by forensic nurses, but about some of the problems they deal with.

“Education about sexual assault is always a tough subject to talk about,” the forensic nurse said. “No one wants to talk about it. We can talk about bullying, addiction, suicide, domestic violence, but sexual assault is one of those topics that is hard to take. Who wants to think about it, admit it happened in their family, or even to them?”

She said people must talk about it — bring it out of the closet.

“We must educate our young kids about appropriate and inappropriate touch; to the teens about risky behavior and the meaning of consent,” Antony said. “More importantly, the meaning of ‘No!’”

Rape happens to anyone, she said. A visitor to our island, a homeless woman, a teenage girl who went to a party and was drugged and not able to consent, or the young child who was raped by a family member.

“Forensic nurses treat all our patients with respect, integrity, and care, providing them the highest level of care to start their healing process,” Antony said.

People wanting a firsthand look at the rooms and facilities used by Kauai’s forensic nurses are invited to an open house at the Kauai Police Department Investigative Services Bureau from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday.

“We are lucky to have not one, but two rooms,” Antony said Wednesday during the Kauai County Council committee meeting where Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. and the council honored the four Kauai forensic nurses during National Forensic Nurses Week that runs through Friday.

Antony, the sexual assault nurse examiner coordinator, is joined by Charlene Ono, an original nurse when the program started, Ranelle Kaawa and Sandy Diego as Kauai’s SANE nurses.

The forensic nurses are a part of the county’s Sexual Assault Response Team and operate out of two small rooms in the KPD Investigative Services Bureau.

Antony said one room is the advocate room where a person accompanying a victim can spend time while the examination is being conducted in the examination room next door.

“I am honored to be part of this dynamic and dedicated team of detectives, YWCA advocates and therapists, prosecutors, Child Welfare Service case workers and the Children’s Justice Center, who work endlessly, day and night with compassion and integrity to make a difference in the lives of those in need,” Antony said. “We have been fortunate to have received the Violence Against Women’s Act Grant, a federal grant, for the past few years. It is a true gift we received the grants, but unfortunately, it is not a guarantee that every year we will be so fortunate.”

Antony said the grant has allowed the program to compensate the nurses for their on-call time, examinations for victims who wish to remain anonymous, a coordinator task position and DNA testing for evidence kits.

A forensic nurse provides specialized care for patients who are victims and/or perpetrators of trauma, both intentional, or unintentional.

The specialized role of forensic nurses goes beyond medical care. They have a specialized knowledge of the legal system and skills in injury identification, evaluation and documentation.

A forensic nurse usually collects evidence, provides medical testimony in court and consults with legal authorities.

The mayor, whose wife is a nurse, said forensic nurses provide nursing care, collect evidence and provide consultation in a variety of areas including sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, death investigation, elder mistreatment, corrections, emergency services and mental and public health.

“It takes a special person to become a forensic nurse, and there aren’t enough words to describe the qualities of a nurse it takes to become a SANE,” Antony said. “Our program is small, but it is strong. We do have our challenges — sustaining nurses, finding money in the budget to support our needs, and grant writing, just to name a few.”

Kauai Police Department Assistant Chief Roy Asher for years has supported the SANE and SART programs.

“As a detective, I took victims to the Emergency Room where they were not a priority and often spent hours waiting during a traumatic time in their life,” Asher said. “When I heard about the SANE and SART programs, I asked the chief if we could develop it here.”

Tim Bynum, a Kauai County Council member, said when he arrived on Kauai, he was involved with child sexual assault during a time when examinations were “a hit-or-miss” affair.

“This was a big deal to find not one, but two rooms,” Bynum said, describing the corps of forensic nurses as unsung heroes.

Kauai Police Chief Darryl Perry said he, too, handled cases during his tenure as a policeman.

“I am proud to say the SANE and SART programs have been a model for the state,” Perry said. “The victims range in age from the very young to elderly.”

Kauai County Council Chair Jay Furfaro pointed out the large amount of support behind forensic nurses.

“Look behind you to see the people who are committed to support the emotional work you do,” Furfaro said. “You display the courage and compassion in your voice. There are not enough words to express the level of appreciation for your work.”

Antony said they receive help from the community, such as the YWCA donating stuffed animals and food for the advocate room and the Zonta Club of Hanalei donating funds to help pay for medical supplies.

Jessell Kerr, director of the Children’s Justice Center, said these nurses are so special.

“The Children’s Justice Center does support the difficult job done by Jennifer and her team,” Kerr said. ‘There are other counties where they lose nurses after just a month, or so. We appreciate their dedication to the SART team, and the kids.”

• Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0453 or dfujimoto@ thegardenisland.com.

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