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Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Deanna Booker, RN discusses sexual assault, how common it is, what to do if you've experienced it, and how to support victims.
Sexual Assault Awareness Month
Deanna Booker, RN
Deanna Booker, is an Registered Nurse (RN), Trauma Nurse Specialist (TNS) and Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) in the Riverside Emergency Department. A SANE is specifically prepared to care for sexual assault survivors and to look for signs of trauma and abuse. Her specialized training includes providing trauma informed care, forensic evidence collection, forensic photography, as well as, training on how to be an expert witness in court. While all nurses in the ED are educated in the SANE process, Deanna is one of five nurses who have pursued additional specialty training. In addition to her specialized training, Deanna is an active member of International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN), Emergency Nurses Association (ENA), she serves as Riverside’s representative for the 21st Judicial Circuit Family Violence Coordinating Council (FVCC), Human Trafficking taskforce and Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) at KC-CASA.

Liz Healy: Hello, listeners. And thank you for tuning into Well Within Reach podcast brought to you by Riverside Healthcare. I'm your host, Liz Healy. And joining me today is Deanna Booker who is the SANE program coordinator here at Riverside. Thank you for joining us today, Deanna.

Deanna Booker: Hello, thank you for having me.

Liz Healy: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? I know that you're not a first time guest in our podcast, but let's just remind some listeners what you do here at Riverside.

Deanna Booker: So as you mentioned, I am the coordinator to the sexual assault program here at Riverside. I'm a registered nurse, who had specialized training to become a sexual assault nurse examiner.

Liz Healy: Okay. So it kind of makes you an expert on the sexual assault awareness and, you know, how important it is to report sexual assault in that there's not a stigma attached to it. I read that sexual assault is one of the most underreported violent crimes in the US and there's even an entire month dedicated to bringing awareness to sexual assault. Why is it so important that we spread awareness of this issue?

Deanna Booker: Because there's so many people in America that are sexually assaulted every day and every year. We are likely to know someone that has been sexually assaulted, bringing awareness to our community and to our country is important because we want to empower people who have been assaulted. We want to empower people that have been assaulted to come forward and to get the medical care and the counseling that they need and deserve.

Liz Healy: Okay. Are there some myths that might go along with reporting sexual assault that would kind of create a barrier for people? They might think that this is something that's true, but it's really not.

Deanna Booker: Absolutely. There's so many myths that people will believe or they'll hear from other people such as some people believe that a husband or a wife can not rape their spouse or sexually assault them, which is a myth. Anytime that someone is forced or coerced to engage in a sexual activity, that they do not consent to a sexual assault. So that is a very common myth among communities and cultural beliefs that a husband and wife couldn't rape their spouse.

There's some other myths as well, such as men can't be raped, which is false. About 92,000 men are raped each year in the United States. So the myth that a man can't be raped is completely inaccurate.

Liz Healy: Do you think that there is a certain myth that is surprising to people that they wouldn't even think of when they start to think about sexual assault?

Deanna Booker: Oftentimes when someone's sexually assaulted, they hesitate to report it or to seek care. They are embarrassed. They feel that they might be blamed. And many times the reason is because culture has a myth that there are so many people that false report, that say that they were assaulted when they really weren't. The truth to that is only about 4% to 8% of all reports are found false. So with that being said, over 90% of sexual assaults that are reported are true. So that is a very common myth among our culture that people will report it even though it's not true.

Liz Healy: Okay. So false reporting doesn't happen as often as people might think. But are there questions that, you know, you might get often when someone's approached you about reporting a sexual assault, whether it happened to themselves or to a friend who's maybe worried about coming forward? Are there frequently asked questions you often get?

Deanna Booker: So many times. There's so many ideas that there's going to be retaliation, that they won't be believed, that they can't afford the care that comes along with going to the emergency room and seeking care. So a couple of myths are that the police won't believe them, that they won't be believed among their peers, which is sometimes true because of our culture.

However, as a sexual assault nurse, we have special training to show us the trauma-informed approach, to always believe our patient, that if someone's coming forward with such a significant trauma to their life and they're telling a complete stranger that this happened, this is truth.

The other piece to that is that there's going to be retaliation. A sexual assault survivor in our state can come forward and never disclose their name to anyone besides to the healthcare provider. So they can come to the emergency department and receive full care that they will not even have an expense out of pocket and never disclose their name. They can have evidence collected and have full treatment without disclosing who they are. And that's something that our state developed a couple of years ago and is very impactful to the survivor.

Liz Healy: Yeah. Not having the stress of knowing that, you know, there's this huge medical bill that could come out of that definitely should help ease that tension, that financial burden would be on them. So when it comes to someone coming to, let's say Riverside's Emergency Department, what are some ways that Riverside help support survivors of sexual assault?

Deanna Booker: So when the SANE program was established in 2017, we began encouraging nurses to go to training, to get that foundation, to get the understanding of how to care for a patient in a trauma-informed manner. We encourage the nurses all to learn. Every healthcare provider in the emergency room has a training that was created specific for sexual assault. So everyone working in the emergency department has had training. This is a special patient and we need to take that into consideration.

Something else that our hospital supports is they have a SANE coordinator, that's myself. I have communications and relationships throughout our community with community partners to always be up-to-date on the most improved care to provide and to give resources to the patient in our community to help them after they leave our emergency department.

Liz Healy: So the difference between a SANE-certified RN and a regular RN, is that they have that special training to spot those situations where a sexual assault might have occurred. Is that correct?

Deanna Booker: So the difference is that a registered nurse who's gone on to specialized training does have training based on the trauma-informed approach. So that means we as a nurse understand what a patient has gone through. The way that they present to the emergency department is completely normal because there's no correct way to respond after such a traumatic event has happened to someone. So we are able to identify that. We're also trained in forensic evidence collection, a very specialized training, and all of the other guidelines that come with the care to the sexual assault patient.

Liz Healy: Okay. So if someone wanted to refer a patient to the SANE program at Riverside, how would they go about doing that?

Deanna Booker: We have an open door policy. So you explain to the patient, "I heard that Riverside has a sexual assault program and they have nurses there that are trained how to take care of you" and encourage them to seek care mostly for their health. We want to make sure that that patient is healthy and we can treat them for any kind of injuries or illnesses they might've received during the assaults, encourage them to come to the emergency room.

Liz Healy: If a person has a friend or loved one who wants to seek help for a sexual assault, but doesn't have the courage to go and seek it themselves, is there a kind of way to help them encourage people to go and get help?

Deanna Booker: First of all, if a patient's ready to come and get help, that's great. It's not always going to happen though. And as someone who cares for someone else who has been assaulted, you have to understand that we would never force anything and we would never make anyone get treatment or report. It's at their time. So when they're ready and they feel that they can do it, then we would say, "I will be there for you. I believe you. I support you."

There's community resources available to us. We have an advocacy center right here in Kankakee, Clove Alliance. They offer counseling, they offer advocacy services. We, Riverside ER and Clove Alliance, work very closely together to provide those resources to that patient. So if they're not quite ready to talk about the event, maybe they are ready just for some counseling. That's something that can be encouraged as well.

Liz Healy: The Clove Alliance sounds like a great resource for survivors. Are there other available resources in the Kankakee community that can help survivors of sexual assault?

Deanna Booker: There are, there are quite a few other community partners that we have here in our county and community. One being the Child Advocacy Center, a child network. They specialize with children. So a child who would be sexually or physically abused can be referred to our children's network. We also have a Harbor House that helps with domestic violence and intimate partner violence. And there's many, many other community resources that we have here.

Liz Healy: It's great that we have so many community resources available in this area. Is there anything else we should know to help bring awareness of sexual assaults?

Deanna Booker: If there's one point that I could hit the most is to remember, to support and to believe. The reason that this crime and this situation is so underreported is because people feel that they will not be believed. So if you know someone or someone tells you that they're assaulted, the number one thing that you can do is to believe them, support them and tell them that if they ever need you, that you'll be there.

Liz Healy: It's very important to remember to believe people who have survived a sexual assault experience in their life. One in ten men and one in six women have experienced sexual assault at some point in their life.

Thank you for tuning in to well within reach podcasts with Deanna Booker the SANE program coordinator here at Riverside. I'm your host, Liz Healy. To learn more about the SANE program at Riverside, visit or call (779) 701-2368.