Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs)
are registered nurses who have special training and experience in forensic evidence collection (conducting “rape kits”) and survivor-centered care. They also increasingly conduct forensic examinations on suspects accused of sexual assault(PDF)
. There is evidence that, through this work, SANE programs increase the prosecution rates of sexual assault cases
. However, as a result of a recent Supreme Court Case, Crawford v. Washington
, the role of SANEs is being increasingly curtailed(behind a pay wall)
One important role of SANEs is to testify as expert witnesses. When a survivor is unwilling or unable to testify (e.g., in cases of rape/homicide, when the survivor dies before trial, when the survivor is very young, mentally ill, or disabled, when the survivor was intoxicated and thus cannot remember what she said to the SANE), a SANE may read the statements that were recorded in the patient’s medical records. Since the SANE must ask about details of the assault to determine where to search for evidence, and has an emotionally supportive role, statements made in the presence of a SANE are often about critical aspects of the case.
While statements made outside of court and used in court to prove the truth of the case are heresay
and thus typically not permitted in court, statements made to medical providers are exempt from such rules, since it is generally recognized in the law that a patient will not lie to their doctor. However, Crawford v. Washington says that if the statements made to someone usually exempt from heresay are "testimonial" (i.e., the person making them knows they can be used in criminal proceedings), then the person making the statements may be more likely to lie, and thus the statements are not admissible in court.
SANEs may be able to present themselves in a clear medical role with survivors. However, this ruling clearly threatens spoken evidence obtained from examinations conducted on suspects. It also threatens important relationships between SANEs and law enforcement, since if they appear to be too close to a survivor, statements made are more clearly testimonial. Such relationships are a critical part of an effective systems response to sexual assault.