Jill Keller, the manager of the emergency department at Waynesboro Hospital, said most of the 18 sexual assault nurse examiners are employed by the hospitals, but their sole focus is on the victim when the SART team is called.
"We know what to look for, we know where to look for it and we know how to collect it," Harshman said of the forensic evidence needed for a sexual assault investigation. Rooms are set aside at the two hospitals where the nurse can conduct a comprehensive and confidential examination of the patient.
Special lamps and fiber-optic cameras are used by the nurses to look for DNA evidence and signs of injury from sexual assaults that might otherwise be missed, she said. In one of the six cases so far, Harshman said a nurse collected DNA evidence from the suspected assailant, after police had gotten a court order for hair and saliva samples.
Harshman said the nurses also provide follow-up care, such as testing victims for sexually transmitted diseases.
A social worker from Women In Need, or WIN, may be with the victim during the voluntary examination and SART members work with police during the victim interview, said Karen Johnston, WIN's assistant director.
WIN's assistance goes beyond the emergency room and into the courtroom, Johnston said.
"We walk the victim of sexual assault or domestic violence through the court system, which can be quite daunting," she said. WIN also provides counseling services for the mental and emotional trauma of victims, she said.
In the past, Harshman said, victims had to retell the details of an assault to nurses, the physicians, victim advocates and the police, often in a hectic emergency room. "Now she doesn't have to relive it each time," she said.
The examinations are free to the victims, paid for through the Pennsylvania Crime Victims Compensation Fund, Johnston said.
A $55,000 Summit Endowment grant paid for training the nurses and the purchase of some examination equipment, Johnston said. Summit Health owns Chambersburg and Waynesboro hospitals.
Nurses received 40 hours of classroom forensic instruction and additional clinical training, said Harshman. That includes training in how to testify in court as to their role in collecting and preserving evidence.
The nurses also are trained to assist police during victim interviews, Keller said. Pennsylvania State Police and officers from municipal police departments participated in some of the classroom training, as well, Johnston said.
Because it is confidential and free, Keller said SART programs in other parts of the country have resulted in more victims being willing to report sexual assaults.
For more information about SART, Johnston said people can call the WIN 24-hour hotline at 264-4444, or 1-800-621-6660.