SAFE-T Center creates blueprint for community-engaged response to sexual assault

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State’s Sexual Assault Forensic Examination Telehealth (SAFE-T) Center has been utilizing telehealth along with a community-engaged solution to enhance sexual assault care in rural and underserved communities in Pennsylvania. Now, its researchers are providing a guide to help others interested in creating similar programs.

According to experts, nearly 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime. Due to a national shortage of sexual assault nurse examiners — or SANEs, registered nurses who are specially trained to respond to sexual assault — communities often struggle to provide survivors with the specialized care they need.

This disparity of sexual assault care is especially felt in rural and underserved communities. Telehealth has been utilized in other health care arenas, and has been proven effective for sexual assault care, but a detailed roadmap of how to create a community-engaged telehealth response for sexual assault has not been available.

In a paper published in The Journal of Rural Health, the SAFE-T Center’s community-engaged telehealth model is laid out in detail focusing on the overall program design and implementation phases. Although Pennsylvania requires all hospitals to provide sexual assault care and mandates that each county has a victim advocacy establishment, there is no oversight to the quality of clinical care or on communication and coordination between law enforcement, victim advocacy, and sexual assault providers.