To better meet the needs of sexual abuse and assault victims on campus, Michigan State University is developing a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program. Specially-trained nurses will be available as a first point of contact for students and staff who have experienced trauma.
Recognizing the need for improvement
The project was conceived amid the fallout of a class-action lawsuit against Larry Nassar, who was accused of sexually assaulting hundreds of young women and girls while working as a physician affiliated with the university. MSU reached a $500 million settlement with the plaintiffs in 2018. Despite the hefty payout, many of those impacted by the abuse were disappointed that the university failed to implement reforms to address sexual assault on campus as part of the agreement. They vowed to keep advocating for those reforms anyway.
Now, their tireless efforts are paying off. The university's Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct Expert Advisory Workgroup proposed the program to meet best-practice protocols in post-assault care. The advisory committee for the project includes individuals involved in the Nassar case. Former Attorney General Angie Povilaitis, who led the prosecution, serves alongside Amanda Thomashow, an abuse survivor. Thomashow now works for the Michigan Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention and Treatment Board for the state Department of Health and Human Services as a campus sexual assault coordinator.
On-site sexual abuse services
According to MSU psychology professor Rebecca Campbell, the SANE program should open its doors to students, faculty and staff by the spring of 2020. The facility will provide medical services-- prophylactics, diagnosis and treatment of injuries, and forensic evidence collection (also called sexual assault kits or rape kits). Additionally, members of the campus community will have access to crisis intervention counseling, which will offer support and connect them with needed resources.
A catalyst for change
While certain details, such as how many nurses will be recruited and which clinic the program will be housed in, have yet to be ironed out, the advisory board's vision is well on its way to becoming a reality. Lawsuits like the one against Nassar play a critical role in instituting long-lasting change. While there is still a long way to go, the successful launching of the MSU program will no doubt lead to similar initiatives nationwide, giving assault survivors the opportunity to be heard and their perpetrators brought to justice.