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Assault survivors urged to seek care as UNE expert works to allay fears about hospital safety during pandemic

Regional coordinator of the UNE SANE program Emily Hilton and Polly Campbell with the sexual assault kit forensic nurses use
Emily Hilton, regional coordinator of the UNE SANE program, and Polly Campbell, UNE SANE director, with the sexual assault kit forensic nurses use

May 12, 2020

Many victims of interpersonal violence (IPV), including sexual assault, domestic violence, elder and child abuse, and human trafficking, are at greater risk during the COVID-19 pandemic due to sheltering in place. 

“Sheltering in place, unfortunately, makes a bad situation worse for people experiencing IPV,” explained Polly Campbell, RN, B.S., B.A., clinical director of the Advanced Nursing Education Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Program. “Victims of domestic abuse are at home all the time with their abuser and cannot readily connect with others for support or help in a crisis. We are very concerned.”

According to the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, 70% of survivors quizzed by advocates said reaction to the pandemic has impacted their safety.

Campbell says victims have also expressed safety concerns about going to the hospital for fear they will be exposed to the coronavirus.

“For most people who have been to the emergency room, the experience is similar -- you arrive, you tell the triage nurse why you are there, and you sit down and wait until you can be seen,” Campbell said. “With the pandemic, that does not happen anymore.”

Health care providers are screening all patients carefully for symptoms of COVID-19 and isolating them from other patients.

“While not perfect, health safety is a priority and it is our hope that survivors will seek the care needed without unnecessary fear,” Campbell stated.

The University of New England partners with state’s Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner (SAFE) Program, Office of Child and Family Services on an initiative aimed at increasing the reach and impact of forensic nurses across Maine through increased support, education, and training.

Campbell says many hospitals have forensic nurses available to provide comprehensive care for all forms of interpersonal violence. She assures victims, if a forensic nurse is not available when a victim arrives at the hospital, the emergency room staff will take care of them.

If you or someone you know has been a victim of IPV you are urged to contact the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault at  800-871-7741 or the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence at 866-834-HELP.     

Advocates are available 24/7. They can share options available for survivors, and explain the health care system should the survivor need or want care.

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