April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and this year marks the 25th anniversary of the Forensic Nursing program at Ascension Via Christi’s Wichita, Kansas, hospitals. Ascension Via Christi’s was the first Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner/Sexual Assault Response Team (SANE/SART) in Kansas and among the first in the United States.

Over the years, the program, whose initial focus was providing care to sexual assault victims in a dignified and compassionate manner while collecting evidence that could be used to help them get justice in a court of law, has evolved and expanded to include victims of other types of violence as well.

“Sadly, over the past 25 years, we’ve been involved in the care of more 7,000 patients,” said Tina Peck, RN, who has served as the program’s coordinator since 2013 and has been with the program since 2008. “While we would like for there to be fewer patients in need of care, we are happy to play a role in helping ensure that patients who need our services receive the care they need.”

The youngest patient to receive care from Ascension Via Christi’s Forensic Nursing team was just 2-weeks old and the oldest was 101.

The Ascension Via Christi team has helped other communities launch programs so victims can receive the care they need as close to home as possible.

Today, Kansas has 22 SANE/SART programs, including the one at Ascension Via Christi Hospital in Manhattan, and the ministry recently received a grant for a program at Ascension Via Christi Hospital in Pittsburg.

“Our program has been successful in helping better address the trauma experienced by victims but could not have done so without the support of our longtime medical directors, Drs. Terri Nickel and Katherine Melhorn, and some exceptional community partners,” Tina said. Those include city, county and state law enforcement, the Sedgwick County district attorney’s office, Kansas Bureau of Investigation, Regional Forensic Science Center, sexual assault and domestic violence advocacy programs, Child Advocacy Center of Sedgwick County, Kansas Department of Children and Families, and McConnell Air Force Base.

For more information about the Forensic Nursing program, go to viachristi.org/forensic-nursing.