Naval Hospital Oak Harbor Resumes Sexual Assault Forensic Exams

By Lt. Cmdr. Rachael Hernandez, Naval Hospital Oak Harbor Public Affairs

Naval Hospital Oak Harbor (NHOH) resumed sexual assault forensic examination (SAFE) services, May 9.

NHOH has been actively pursuing a way for victims of sexual assault to be examined in the facility aboard Naval Air Station Whidbey Island (NASWI) facility. Recently a team of doctors, nurses and hospital corpsmen volunteered to be members of the NHOH Sexual Assault Forensic Exam (SAFE) team to provide 24/7 on-call forensic examinations for victims.

The SAFE team received a 40-hour training course taught by Cmdr. Cynthia Ferguson, a certified sexual assault nurse examiner.

“This training helps us meet our mission of caring for people and helps Sailors and family members after one of the most traumatic events they can experience,” said Capt. Edward Simmer, NHOH commanding officer, to the attendees. “Your dedication and hard work may well save a life.”

In a recent blog post by Vice Adm. Matthew L. Nathan, U.S. Navy surgeon general and chief, U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, he said the Navy is increasing the capability to provide timely, readily accessible medical-forensic examinations

“Last month, we made revisions to Navy Medicine policy establishing training requirements for health care providers to conduct SAFE examinations,” said Nathan. “Standardized SAFE increases capability and improves the patient experience. Standardization also allows for consistent evidence collection and reporting whether it is at one of our military treatment facilities at home or in a forward-deployed operational area.”

Also during the training, Naval Criminal Investigative Service Agents, victim advocates, a legal officer, the chaplain, and a forensic psychiatrist also shared their expertise.

“This training has been very informative,” said Lt. Elyse Braxton, a member of the 24/7 SAFE team. “It will be invaluable in our ability to provide a full spectrum of care to any victims of sexual assault who may present to our facility.”

The training used high fidelity mannequins and included how to perform examinations on alleged perpetrators of sexual assault.

Great emphasis has been placed on sexual assault prevention and response in an effort to eliminate this criminal act of violence and ensure proper care for victims.

The medical community plays a significant role in responding to victims of sexual assault and each victim is offered a medical exam that includes forensic evidence collection, and patients are also offered treatment and counseling options.

Until now, NHOH had contracted with Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, Wash., to provide sexual assault forensic examination (SAFE) services. This meant victims of sexual assault had to drive more than an hour and a half to be examined, which resulted in delayed care and potential loss of evidence that could help in prosecuting the perpetrator of the sexual assault. NHOH began offering SAFE services once the course was complete.

Active duty service members and beneficiaries 18 years or older are eligible for these services. If you are a victim of sexual assault please contact your victim advocate or call the Department of Defense (DOD) SafeHelpLine at 877-995-5247.

Story updated May 17 at 8:00 a.m.

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