Victim-Centered Care

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It is critical to respond to individuals disclosing sexual assault in a timely, appropriate, sensitive, and respectful way.[1] Every action taken by responders during the exam process should be useful in facilitating patients’ care and healing and/or the investigation (if the case was reported).
Recommendations at a glance for health care providers and other responders to facilitate victim-centered care during the exam process:

  • Give sexual assault patients priority as emergency cases.
  • Provide the necessary means to ensure patient privacy.
  • Adapt the exam process as needed to address the unique needs and circumstances of each patient.
  • Be aware of issues commonly faced by victims from specific populations. Including:
    • Victims from various cultural groups ( including those with limited English proficiency)
    • Victims with disabilities
    • Male victims
    • Adolescent victims
    • Older victims
  • Understand the importance of victim services within the exam process. Involve victim service providers/advocates in the exam process (including the actual exam) to offer support, crisis intervention, and advocacy to victims, their families, and friends.
  • Respect patients’ requests to have a relative, friend, or other personal support person present during the exam, unless considered harmful by responders.
  • Accommodate victims’ requests for responders of a specific gender as much as possible.
  • Prior to starting the exam and conducting each procedure, describe what is entailed and its purpose to patients. After providing this information, seek patients’ permission to proceed and respect their right to decline any part of the exam. However, follow exam facility and jurisdictional policy regarding minors and adults who are incompetent to give consent. Assess and respect patients’ priorities.
  • Integrate exam procedures where possible. 
  • Address patients’ safety concerns during the exam. Sexual assault patients have legitimate reasons to fear further assaults from their attackers. Local law enforcement may be able to assist facilities in addressing patients’ safety needs.
  • Provide information that is easy for patients to understand and that can be reviewed at their convenience.

After the exam is finished, provide patients with the opportunity to wash, brush their teeth, change clothes, get food or drink, and make needed phone calls. Assist them in arranging transportation home or to another location if needed.

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International Association of Forensic Nurses

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This project was supported by Grant No.2011-TA-AX-K021 awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this Web Site are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women.