Hofstra University's law school has partnered with Northwell Health to...

Hofstra University's law school has partnered with Northwell Health to provide legal services to patients. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A new forensic nursing program at Hofstra’s graduate school of nursing — a first in New York State — is expected to play a key role in training health-care experts to help victims of sexual assault.

The Hofstra Northwell Graduate School of Nursing and Physician Assistant Studies program has received a $754,000 federal grant to train nurses for certification as sexual-assault nurse examiners, also known by the acronym, SANE.

“This is a national program; only 16 awards were made across the country,” said nurse practitioner Amy Smith of Long Island Jewish Forest Hills, project coordinator for the program and a certified sexual-assault examiner.

Registered nurses who qualify for certification in this area of forensic nursing become part of the nationwide SANE network, a program that dates to the 1970s when it was first recognized that rape victims required specialized care.

Sexual assault is a major public health concern that goes largely unreported, Smith said. The certification program fills a health-care gap, she said.

The program is the only university-based SANE program in New York State and will train nurses in Nassau and Suffolk counties, as well as the boroughs of Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island.

An estimated one in five women and one in 71 men will become victims of rape at some point in their lives, statistics from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, show.

The new grant is from the Health Resources and Services Administration division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The federal program was designed to address the public health problem of sexual violence, which can have long-term physical and mental effects, including post-traumatic stress disorder.

“There is no profile of someone who has been sexually assaulted,” Smith said. “The person can be of any age, gender or race.”

Training in geriatrics will be offered as part of the program, she added, because older people fall prey to sexual assault, as do younger people. Older people, however, comprise a largely unknown population injured psychologically and physically by sexual violence.

Regardless of age, Smith said, patients need someone who is highly trained to address their concerns.

“These patients need a nurse,” said Smith, who described the specialized form of forensic nursing to be at the apex of an interdisciplinary team.

She defined the other members as emergency physicians, gynecologists, social workers and psychiatrists. Emergency departments with nurses certified in sexual-assault care become part of the network, said Smith, who already was instrumental in starting a SANE-designated program at Lenox Hill Greenwich Village, a division of the Northwell Health system.

Despite the frequency of sexual violence across the country, most assaults go unreported to authorities, Smith said.

Kathleen Gallo, dean of the Hofstra Northwell graduate school, applied for the grant to develop the education program. Training, which begins in January, will start with a class of 25 nurses and an aim to train 75 over the next three years in the hope that certified nurses will practice throughout New York. Gallo said.

“Participants in the program, who will be trained as forensic nurses, will be responsible for collecting evidence. They may be called to court to provide testimony, so the law school will be part of the curriculum and put the nurses through mock trials, so they can be prepared for the pressure of what a defense attorney would put them through,” Gallo said.

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center describes sexual assault as costly, debilitating — and heinous because of sexual assaults involving children. Rape costs the nation $127 billion annually. Nearly 80 percent of people who sexually assault children are adults.

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