The program’s trained nurse examiners care for those who have experienced sexual assault and/or domestic violence. They see people of all genders and ages, and they work with health, social and legal services to make sure survivors are supported beyond the examination room.
“Every single case is different,” says Jan Calnan, Coordinator of Island Health’s Forensic Nurse Examiner Program for the South Island. “We listen, treat, talk and send them to a safe environment. One of the key components is we thank them for coming. It was a hard decision [for them] to come in and to put themselves in such a vulnerable spot.”
Calnan is based in the South Island and has been a forensic nurse examiner since 1998. Aimee Falkenberg, Coordinator of the program for Central and North Island, became a forensic nurse examiner in 2008. They and their team are now expanding their role to include community outreach.
The goal of the Forensic Nurse Examiner Program’s outreach work is, wherever possible, to prevent sexual assault and domestic violence from occurring in the first place.
“It’s putting it out in the open. Twenty years ago no one talked about it,” says Calnan.
Falkenberg says schools and RCMP appreciate it when forensic nurse examiners share their knowledge about sexual assault and domestic violence. At school presentations, she says, youth regularly ask questions about how they can support each other.
“It’s talking about what you can do if something happens, but also what you can do if you see something happening,” she explains. “Building those partnerships within communities means when we are offering those services, we are also offering the supportive partnerships with these community groups.”
The Forensic Nurse Examiner Program is also increasing its cultural safety training, so they will be better equipped to help survivors from varied cultural backgrounds.
Island Health has 30 forensic nurse examiners, including Calnan and Falkenberg. Falkenberg says most nurses who are drawn to the program see it as an opportunity to make a difference.
“I can’t describe what it feels like to see someone walk out with their head lifted up a little bit,” she said. “This isn’t just our jobs. This is us. This is what we do.”
Forensic nurse examiners provide a link between medical and judicial processes by providing their patients with medical forensic health care.
They care for physical injuries, and offer medications to help prevent sexually transmitted infections and more. They also provide the option of collection of forensic samples which are given directly to police (if the survivor has chosen to report the incident to police). Forensic samples can also be collected and stored for up to one year, if the survivor of violence is undecided about reporting the incident to police.
“It is in [survivors’] hands to choose what they want to have done . . . we provide three options for care and listen to their needs,” said Falkenberg. “It is non-judgemental.”
Island Health’s Manager of Trauma Services John-Marc Priest says one of the key things about the program is that the psychological well-being of survivors is embedded in the care.
“They are not ill. This is something that has happened to them,” he said. “The outreach part of our program is increasing awareness, which is important when 90 per cent [of sexual assault and intentional violence] cases go unreported.”
All Island Health emergency departments can provide access to forensic nurse examiners. People can also arrange for care by phoning the Vancouver Island Crisis Line at 1-888-494-3888. In Victoria, forensic nurse examiners can also provide care at the Victoria Sexual Assault Clinic. This option is available through the centre’s crisis and information line at (250) 383-3232.
(L-R) Jan Calnan, Coordinator of Island Health’s Forensic Nurse Examiner Program for the South Island , Aimee Falkenberg, Coordinator of the FNE Program for Central and North Island, and John-Marc Priest, Island Health Manager of Trauma Services are committed to raising awareness about sexual assault and domestic violence.
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