RH Reality Check, May 30, 2012 by Robin Marty
Imagine being the victim of a sexual assault, or a parent who learns their daughter was sexually assaulted. You arrive at a hospital, looking for assistance — someone to do a physical exam, tests, collect evidence, offer emergency contraception so the rape isn’t compounded by pregnancy.
Imagine being turned away.
This is what happened to a young woman who arrived at Integris Canadian Valley Hospital with her mother. There, the doctor that met with her told her that the hospital was unable to examine her or provide emergency contraception due to a lack of Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE). The specially trained nurses are rotated from hospital to hospital, and there were none at the hospital that the victim chose.
Hospital spokes-people argued that the doctor made the right call, and that SANE nurses were specially trained to collect and preserve evidence without “re-traumatizing” the victim.
However, the real question is whether the doctor behaved ethically when she refused to provide emergency contraception, which is much more effective the sooner it is taken after unprotected sexual intercourse. The doctor stated that she was unable to provide it until she had received an exam, but the victim’s mother thinks that may have just been an excuse.
The mother said she and her daughter did file a police report about the rape. She’s angry that she brought her 24-year-old daughter to the Integris Canadian Valley Hospital emergency room on Sunday, and that the doctor who came in and saw them refused to do any sort of exam or to provide them with any emergency contraceptives.
Not only that, she says the doctor was less than sympathetic when dealing with her daughter, even though she was told she was a victim of a rape.
Oklahoma is one of a handful of states that allow doctors to refuse to provide emergency contraception due to conscience clause laws, and that very well may have been the contributing factor in this case.
However, as Jessica Pieklo writes over at Care2, this isn’t just an issue of a doctor refusing treatment. It’s also a sign of how budget cuts and austerity programs are decimating both medical programs and public safety programs that especially help women.
[P]rograms like that can only work when there’s the resources behind them and in support of the mission. When that doesn’t happen, rape kits go uncollected, languish in processing, and evidence stales. Perpetrators go free and victims are left without any justice. Thanks to Republicans continued assault on sexual assault prevention and victim support services, SANE nurses must rotate time at different hospitals around the Oklahoma City metro-area. Which means when this victim needed one she had to transfer hospitals, further delaying the processing of her claim and any evidence that could be used in prosecution.
There is no reason why a person isn’t trained in each hospital to be able to conduct an exam, other than a mentality that believes that regardless of the circumstances, women and girls should continue to jump through hoops to get proper care, and that it’s up to them to bear any inconvenience.
SANE nurse exams are meant to “not retraumatize” the victim, but how is searching for and being denied care the first time not in itself traumatizing? Being denied the tools to best prosecute the perpetrator or to protect her from pregnancy after the assault?
Oklahoma balances the budget on a rape victim’s back, then victimizes her again by allowing doctors to refuse her needed and compassionate care and her basic human rights.