Laura Smolinski, Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) and instructor for the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh College of Nursing (CON), has dedicated her career and her education to support victims of sexual assault.
Smolinski presented a summary of her doctoral dissertation titled “Emergency and SANE Nurses’ Acceptance of Drug-Facilitated Sexual Assault,” at a brown bag seminar hosted by the women’s and gender studies program. Students from across campus gathered to learn the results of her study and gain an understanding of the procedures and protocol of sexual assault cases in hospitals.
Her research focused on the perception of rape myths. Evidence shows a majority of the population believes if a person is intoxicated, they deserve to be raped. Misconceptions like this contribute to underreporting of nearly 50 percent of sexual assaults.
In her study, Smolinski sought to determine if emergency room (ER) nurses and SANE nurses agreed or disagreed with common rape myths. She also wanted to identify any differences among subsets of this population, including gender, level of education and those who have undergone SANE training versus those who have not.
Smolinski surveyed a sample of 581 ER and SANE nurses using a Likert scale. On a scale of one to five—one being “strongly agree” and five being “strongly disagree”—the average response to the rape myths she depicted was 4.48, “disagree/strongly disagree.” Her results draw the overwhelming conclusion that ER and SANE nurses do not believe the harmful misconceptions surrounding sexual assault.
The driving force behind her research was to help victims of sexual assault. Smolinski hopes the results of her study will show victims it is safe to report and go to the ER if they are sexually assaulted.
“If this research can impact even one person, then I know it was all worth it,” she said.
Not only can Smolinski’s study improve sexual assault reporting rates, it also has the potential to positively impact SANE training and program development.
SANE nurses are trained to provide trauma-informed care. These individuals are certified to carry out patient interviews, assessments, forensic exams, counseling and referrals to other sexual assault resources in lieu of a physician.
With more than 48 hours of comprehensive training and continuing education to maintain certification, SANE nurses are among the most knowledgeable, open-minded and empathetic caregivers a sexual assault victim can work with. These nurses are generally available at any hospital in the state of Wisconsin, though they are more likely present in densely populated areas.
Smolinski has shared her research with nursing students in the Oshkosh Student Nurses’ Association as way to teach the value of additional nursing certifications and help them understand the impact nurses have on the general population.
“The nursing students at UW Oshkosh show such great enthusiasm,” she said. “They have the mindset that they can change the world—and they really can—one patient at a time.”
Smolinski said nurses aren’t the only group interested in her results. She recently shifted her focus to inform other relevant areas of campus like the women’s and gender study programs, professional counseling, social work and other fields related to mental health and crisis intervention.
UW Oshkosh hosts an array of educational programming and events during sexual assault awareness month in April each year. When Alicia Johnson, director of the UW Oshkosh Women’s Center, learned of Smolinski’s background, she immediately knew the CON instructor would be a great addition to the 2019 sexual assault awareness month programming lineup.
“By sharing her research, Dr. Smolinski helps increase awareness of local Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner programs that members of the campus community can access,” Johnson said.
Caitlin Simonsmeier, a recent UWO graduate from Oshkosh with a master’s degree in social work, said she attended Smolinski’s presentation to understand how sexual assault is handled in hospital settings and also to learn what SANE certification entails. Simonsmeier is kicking off her career as a foster care social worker with Lutheran Social Services in Appleton. She said in her role it is important to have knowledge of crisis intervention to best serve her clients.
“My biggest takeaway is that nurses who are SANE trained are working from an empathetic mindset and are truly there for a victim and their well-being,” Simonsmeier said. “Those who are assaulted need a team to aid them in their journey through this crisis. SANE and emergency nurses are an important piece of that puzzle.”
In Oshkosh, victims can access SANE services at no cost by going to the Aurora Hospital Emergency Room. Aurora provides SANE services 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This sexual assault resource is free for all patients due to funding from the state.