University of New Mexico College of Nursing students recently had the opportunity to learn what intimate partner violence looks like and how to care for patients who are victims of sexual assault.

Crystal Sanchez
Courtesy of UNM

As part of a guest presentation during a course taught by lecturers and nurses Christopher Nelson and Crystal Sanchez, guest lecturer Gail Starr, a registered nurse with Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner certifications, discussed trauma-informed, patient-centered and non-judgmental health care in cases of intimate partner violence, which includes domestic violence, sexual assault and rape.

“It is very important to know about intimate partner violence, as these students will be nurses and will likely encounter situations of intimate violence in their patients,” Sanchez said.

Starr and Sanchez have been friends for years and used to work together at UNM Hospital. When Starr began working at the Albuquerque Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Collaborative, Sanchez asked if she could be a guest lecturer and talk to the class. Starr has since spoken to the Level Four class for several years.

“As a college, we make a concentrated effort to educate our nursing students on this very important and often personal topic,” Sanchez said. “We work collaboratively with other agencies in order to

Gail Starr
Courtesy of UNM

bring students the latest evidence-based practice.”

Starr works as a clinical coordinator for Albuquerque SANE Collaborative, which serves individuals who have experienced sexual assault and domestic violence by providing immediate, compassionate, culturally sensitive and comprehensive medical treatment and forensic evaluation by nurse experts.

SANEs also screen for traumatic brain injury, strangulation and human trafficking. Albuquerque SANE Collaborative employs 19 nurses who provide 24/7 coverage to Bernalillo, Sandoval, Torrance and Valencia counties.

“We do evidence collection and we’re very good at it, but it’s not the focus of what we do,” Starr said. “Above all, a victim of violence requires medical care, and everyone deserves medical care.”

To become a SANE, one must first be a registered nurse, preferably with two or more years of experiences in areas such as emergency, critical care and maternal child health. Then, after beginning practice as a SANE, nurses take board certification examinations through the International Association of Forensic Nurses.

During the presentation, Starr said intimate partner violence is a public-health issue and affects one in three women and one in four men. She added that sexual assault affects one in four women and one in six men and has long-term effects on victims and their ability to interact with health-care providers, from OB/GYNs to mental health practitioners.

“Shame and silence around the topics of sexual assault and intimate partner violence really interfere with the ability of a person to heal from these abuses,” she said. “Speaking to nursing staff specifically, I hope to help reduce the fear of addressing difficult topics with their patients. This understanding will promote trust and healing.”

Starr told students that all medical and forensic exams are done on a consent basis. Other services offered by the Albuquerque SANE Collaborative include documentation of the assault, forensic photography, pregnancy prevention, sexually transmitted infection prevention, referrals, follow-up services and support in legal proceedings.

“We want to make sure the patient has a little more power and control back, because intimate partner violence involves an abuser taking power and control from a person,” she said. “We also do a lot of education – we teach them what sexual assault looks like and why how they responded was normal.”

While reporting a sexual assault of an adult to law enforcement is voluntary, Starr said SANEs are mandated to report child sexual abuse.

“We know that most people do not report,” she said. “It’s really hard to get estimates when you don’t know how many people are actually being sexually assaulted.”

Albuquerque SANE Collaborative services are always confidential, completely free to victims and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

​“One thing that a victim of sexual assault feels is that things are not OK.” Starr said. “Medical intervention can allow patients to know that everything is OK.”