ALAMOSA — Sandi Beheiry and Melissa Dominguez are making sure no sexual assault victim has to face the aftermath alone.
The two nurses are available to perform sex assault examinations and encourage all victims to complete the exam, regardless of whether or not they press charges against the perpetrator or even report the crime.
During April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the two SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) nurses remind area residents of the services they provide throughout the entire San Luis Valley for sex assault victims.
Originally operating through the hospital, the SANE nurses now work out of Valley Wide-Health Systems’ Convenient Care Community Clinic at the corner of Highways 160 and 285 (Main and West Avenue) in Alamosa. However, they serve the entire 12th Judicial District (the San Luis Valley.)
A SANE nurse is available Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on weekends 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on holidays. The two nurses have other responsibilities at the clinic in addition to working other jobs, but they are always available for sex assault victims who need them.
“We never close,” said Beheiry, who is the SANE coordinator. She is an RN with an MSN and SANE-A certification and has been a nurse for more than 30 years, including obstetrics nursing.
Dominguez is also an RN with more than 20 years experience.
Both have gone through specialized training to provide SANE services, and they maintain certification through continuing credits.
The SANE services are grant funded, so there is no charge to the patients, “absolutely none,” Beheiry said.
Everything is also confidential, with the nurses conducting the exams very discreetly and confidentially and only with the patient’s consent.
There are three ways victims of sexual assault can report to the SANE staff: 1) totally anonymously, with the nurses gathering the evidence and placing a number on the evidence kit but not pursuing it unless the victim changes her or his mind later to pursue the crime; 2) anonymously but with the intention of pursuing the evidence, which would be given a special case number and sent to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, which would run the evidence for any DNA, and the victim could choose to press charges or not; 3) with the express intention of pursuing the case, perhaps because police have already become involved, know who the victim is and have a report on the case, and the SANE nurses would hand the evidence over to the police.
Dominguez encouraged victims to come in for the examination as soon after the assault as possible so that as much evidence can be collected as possible, even if the case never goes to court. She said they could collect evidence up to five days.
It is also important for the victim not to wash away evidence until it is collected, although that is the victim’s first reaction to take a bath or douche. Every piece of evidence is important to preserve, Beheiry added.
Dominguez explained that the examination entails a head-to-toe examination, with the victim’s consent. The nurses find out what happened and perform the physical examination, which includes general and genital examination as well as evidence collection and photos of the bruises, etc.
“Our focus is survivors’ health, addressing their medical needs,” Beheiry said. “It is important they access us, even if it is just for that medical piece.”
The nurses offer emergency treatment for such issues as sexually-transmitted diseases, for example. They also help set up follow-up treatment when needed.
Beheiry said many times it is too traumatic for the survivor to pursue the case right after it occurs, but if the evidence is collected, the case can be pursued criminally at a later time, in fact up to two years afterwards in Colorado.
She added that usually when a victim does pursue charges against the perpetrator, the perpetrator takes a plea.
Beheiry said if Valley-Wide did not host the SANE nurses here, the closest SANE providers would be in Pueblo. “I have had several people tell me ‘if you hadn’t been here, I wouldn’t have had the exam done’,” she said.
The staff appreciates Valley-Wide’s support in providing space, Dr. Kris Steinberg’s support as medical director and Denise Trujillo’s efforts to maintain the program here.
In addition to performing examinations, the SANE nurses educate the community in general and law enforcement and fellow medical providers in particular. They are available to speak at schools in the Valley. They also work closely with college students and want them to know they are here for them. They also advise college students and others to take precautions, for example not leaving their drinks unattended at a party because someone could slip something into them, like date rape drugs.
They also keep current on legislation that is pertinent to victims of sexual crimes and help educate others on changes in the law.
The SANE staff also works closely with other agencies such as Tu Casa, which operates the Children’s Advocacy Center. The center provides exams for children, and SANE provides exams for adolescents (generally ages 14 and over) and adults.
In addition, they have access to other SANE units if they have questions or issues here they want to check out with other professionals in the field.
“It’s not the easiest thing to do,” Beheiry said. She and Dominguez feel that what they do is important and rewarding.
“It’s just a different kind of nursing,” Beheiry said. “It’s always given me a lot of gratification to be able to work with the victims and to be able to spend the quality one-on-one time.”
She said this is quite a change from obstetrics and helping to deliver babies, but she is glad to be a part of something that provides such a vital and valuable service to victims of crime.
Dominguez added that she also appreciated being able to take her time with a patient, which is possible in her SANE work. An examination might take 30 minutes or it might take four to six hours.
“You just take the time,” she said.
“And not judge,” Beheiry said. “It’s really easy for me to be able to have empathy for the patient.”
Dominguez added, “Nobody is asking to be sexually assaulted … If a person is saying ‘no,’ then it’s ‘no’.”
“It’s no necessarily women getting assault. It’s elderly getting abused. It’s children,” Beheiry said, and Dominguez added, “There are males that get sexually assaulted as well.”
Sexual assaults are often not reported, but Beheiry and Dominguez encourage victims to at least come in for the SANE exam, even if they never pursue charges. If they do later decide to pursue charges, at least the evidence will be there, and it will be easier to get a conviction or plea, they said.
To contact SANE staff call 719-588-8603 anytime or stop by the convenient care clinic in Alamosa.
Caption: Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) nurses Melissa Dominguez, left, and SANE Coordinator Sandi Beheiry are ready to serve victims of sexual assault in the San Luis Valley./Courier photo by Ruth Heide