NJ Sexual Assault Response Team & Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Overview

By Sandra Hoyer, NP, SANE Nurse

Sexual assault is a crime punishable by the law as outlined in State and Federal Statutes. New Jersey law states that once a person says “no” or is physically helpless or incapacitated, incapable of giving consent for the sexual activity, it is sexual assault. Physical injury does not need to be present.

In New Jersey, services for sexual assault victims such SART are available and FREE of charge at designated hospitals in every county.

The Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) is available 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, and consists of specially trained personnel:

  1. Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE nurse) who examines the victim, collects forensic evidence from the victim with the victim’s consent, and provides medication to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy.
  2. Sexual Violence Advocate who supports the victim during the exam and provides information to the victim before the exam and for the days after the assault.
  3. Law enforcement officer and/or detective specially trained in sexual assault crimes and victim representation.

The advice for a victim of sexual assault is as follows:

  • Get to a safe place.
  • Call 911, the local police department, ER/hospital, or the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656 HOPE (4673). If desired, the police can transport a victim to one of the local hospitals that provides SART services.
  • Patient is advised not to bathe, shower, douche, change clothes, eat, drink, urinate, and brush teeth or gargle, in order to preserve evidence. However, anyone can still be seen for an exam and treatment even if one or all of the above was already done.

What to expect at the hospital:

An investigation can be started at the time of hospital visit or not at all, except in certain cases, when it is mandatory, e.g., weapon present during the sexual assault.

1) First, the patient is medically cleared by the ER doctor. This usually consists of a brief physical exam when the doctor looks for injuries and gets a history of previous illnesses and current medications.

2) The forensic SANE nurse then reviews the procedure for a forensic exam, collection of evidence, and photographs for the Rape Kit. The patient signs a consent for each aspect of the procedure. At any time during the exam the patient can change his/her mind about what evidence is collected.

The Rape Kit consists of swabs used to collect samples for DNA identification and boxes to contain items such as debris and hairs. Clothes and undergarments are kept in sealed bags. A pelvic exam is performed if there was vaginal penetration, and samples are collected from the vagina. Oral and anal/rectal samples may be collected if relevant. A written detailed report is included, as recalled by the patient.

In addition, if there are lapses in memory or confusion about events, a Drug-facilitated Rape Kit (testing for “rape” drugs) may be used. It includes collection of urine and blood samples if the assault occurred within 24 hours, or if more than 24 hours, only a urine sample is collected.

The victim can decide to have the Rape Kit given to police immediately or held in the Prosecutor’s office for up to 5 years as a Jane Doe case. At any time during this period, victim can initiate further investigation and the kit is sent for analysis.

3) Medications to prevent STDs and pregnancy are ordered, dispensed from the hospital’s pharmacy and given to the patient.

4) The victim is given instructions regarding follow-up care and contact information for additional support services.