SANE program provides medical and forensic response to victims of sexual assault

PAVSA’s SANE program collects evidence and provides medical care for victims of sexual assault

PAVSA's Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program provides a community-based medical and forensic response to victims of sexual assault.

Located in southern St. Louis County, Program for Aid to Victims of Sexual Assault (PAVSA) is a non-profit sexual violence crisis center. One of PAVSA’s many ways of helping the community is through the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program. 

The SANE program was started by PAVSA’s SMART team in 2007 to provide a community-based medical and forensic response to victims of sexual assault. 

If you need immediate help, PAVSA advocates can be reached through the following 24-hour helpline: 218-726-1931

“If someone has been sexually assaulted in the last couple of weeks, they can come to the emergency room to receive care from a sexual assault nurse examiner, which is going to be myself or another one of our small team of 14 nurses who have had specialized training,” said SANE Program Nurse Manager Alisha Blazevic. 

The following hospitals in the area work with the SANE program:

  • Essentia/St. Mary’s ER Duluth: 407 E 3rd Street, Duluth, MN 55805
  • St. Luke’s ER: 1030 E 2nd Street, Duluth, MN 55805
  • Lake View Memorial ER: 325 11th Avenue, Two Harbors, MN 55616
  • Essentia/St. Mary’s ER Superior: 3500 Tower Avenue, Superior, WI 54880

“The SANE program operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We always have nurses on call ready to respond. We want to make sure that we respond to where patients feel comfortable going,” said SANE Program Coordinator Sam Madsen. “It’s always a choice. We never make patients do anything that they don’t want to do. It’s about restoring their control, making sure that they’re feeling supported in their healing journey and really just providing patient centered, trauma informed care.”

When a SANE nurse responds to a patient, that is the only patient that they see in the E.R. 

“They don’t go out and see other patients. They’re getting their full attention,” said Madsen. “Just making sure that all of their needs are met, even if it’s kind of beyond what we can provide, making sure that those connections are made long after the exam takes place.”

SANE nurses collect information and test swabs through the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI). 

“Of course, we know that many victims, survivors never tell anybody. And some wait for, you know, different amounts of time to report based on their own individual best interests and their own individual way of healing and dealing with it,” said St. Louis County Attorney’s Office Head of Criminal Division Nate Stumme. “Sexual assault, of course, is one of the most personal, the most violent, violative crimes on the books. And so there’s not really a typical response.”

The sexual assault exam and emergency room care offered by SANE are both free of charge. Each part of the exam process is optional. 

“There is never a time when somebody is told what part of the exam. You know, you must do these details. You must have this part of your body examined. Each person has a choice of what’s going to happen. And the sexual assault nurse examiner will tell them, Here’s all the things we can do for you today. ‘What parts are you interested in?’, said Blazevic.

The SANE program conducts around 120 exams a year. 

“After the exam is done, there are multiple steps. First and foremost, part of this is going to connect with that patient and follow up. Ask them how they’re doing and continue to offer services here in the hospital in addition to a sexual assault nurse examiner or responding to see someone,” said Blazevic. “There’s also an advocate from PAVSA that comes and stays with that person at the hospital through the several hours of their exam in the emergency room. At that point, we introduce all the different options we have for follow up, and then we continue to reach out to each person to let them know what these opportunities are, knowing that the time in the emergency room is very stressful and you’re not going to remember everything.”

There are two different reporting options, and the decision is up to the victim. 

“Unrestricted report is essentially a report to law enforcement that’s about the majority of the exams that we do, and probably 75% are reported to law enforcement,” said Madsen. “And then the other option is called restricted, and that allows for a patient to have all of the evidence collected at the time of their exam. But it’s stored at the Minnesota BCA crime Lab for a period of 30 months while they make the choice on whether or not they want to report to police.”

Once evidence is collected, it is stored in a secure refrigerator, picked up by police within ten days, and sent in for testing within 60 days.

“The best case scenario is that we have DNA evidence that gives us an identity for who committed these crimes. And, of course, there are many situations where the victim survivors don’t, you know, aren’t familiar with the person that assaulted them,” said Stumme. “So the DNA evidence is critical, and that all comes about as a result of the SANE examinations.”

In addition to the SANE program, PAVSA offers a range of support following sexual violence including crisis counseling, seeking shelter, transportation assistance to and from the hospital, and referrals for needs outside their scope of services. More information about the services offered can be found at the PAVSA website

The PAVSA office is located at 32 E 1st Street, Suite 200 in Duluth. Regular business hours are Monday-Friday from 8:30am to 4:30pm. In the summer, the office closes at noon on Fridays. 

Donations are always needed, and you can donate online through this link

More on PAVSA and other organizations that are part of this year’s Trees of Hope can be found at this link.

If you need immediate help, PAVSA advocates can be reached through the following 24-hour helpline: 218-726-1931