New Program Provides Sexual Assault Victims With Emotional Support At Hospital

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A new program is providing sexual assault survivors with emotional support and resources when they seek treatment at a local medical center.

The Adena Southern Ohio Survivor Advocate Program, also known as SOSA, is designed to comfort victims of sexual assault during what can be one of the most difficult moments of their life: the medical exam. 

Volunteer "advocates," who are on-call 24 hours a day and seven days a week, accompany sexual assault patients when they come to the Adena Medical Center's Emergency Department.

"It's all about explaining [to the patient] that we are here to help you," said Nicole Long, who helped create the program. "We are here to answer your questions. It might be as simple as just sitting in the corner of the room and knowing that they're not alone. I have never had a negative response from someone." 

Jamie Myers, co-creater of SOSA and forensic nursing coordinator at the medical center, said the program was needed to supplement the objectivity that a nurse is expected to exhibit when examining a patient.

"I'm there for the medical aspect of the examination, and the advocate is there for the emotional support," Myers said." While [nurses] are conducting the examination, [they] are collecting forensic evidence which could be used for prosecution. [The advocates] are there to guide the victim through the process."  

In addition to providing emotional support to patients, hospital advocates view their role as educational too. They present each patient with an informative packet about county resources for victims of sexual assault. 

Since the program launched on April 1, the advocates say they have responded to at least three calls.  

"It's a time when all of their trust has been violated. They're questioning all kinds of things. They have incredibly heightened emotional reactions. An advocate's role is really to work with the survivor while they're at the hospital just so they feel like they can trust and have power and control back,"  said Stacey Saunders, co-creator of SOSA. 

The seven volunteer advocates completed an application, interview process and  36 hours of training before the program's launch.  

"We talked about rape culture, sexual assault with different populations and the role of an advocate," Saunders said. 

According to a press release from the Adena Health System, the medical center treated 133 victims of sexual abuse during the past 12 months, which is 14 more than last year.