Vermont’s Pediatric Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners

By: Amy Torchia,Children’s Advocacy Coordinator, Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence

Sexual abuse of children is a problem of epidemic proportions in the United States.

  • Nearly 63,000 children were victims of sexual abuse in 2012.[i]
  • Before their 18th birthday, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will experience some form of sexual abuse. [ii]
  • In Vermont, 323 children were substantiated as victims of sexual abuse by the Department for Children and Families in 2012.  97% of the sexual abuse was committed by people that the children knew.[iii]

Children who experience sexual abuse often have unique and immediate medical needs.   Vermont’s S.A.N.E. (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) program has worked to expand access to specially-trained forensic nurses who can perform pediatric sexual assault exams for children under the age of 15 who present at hospitals across the state.  There are now 10 Pediatric S.A.N.E.s working in four hospitals in Vermont, and six additional nurses currently completing training.  Pediatric S.A.N.Es at hospital emergency departments have specialized training and tools to provide evaluation of sexual trauma and forensic medical examinations to collect physical and biological evidence for possible criminal investigations.

S.A.N.E practice is founded on the principle of ‘do no harm’, and is by nature trauma-informed and holistic.  Pediatric S.A.N.E.s are trained to provide care in ways that minimize additional trauma for child victims or families.  As much as possible, S.A.N.E.s limit the information that is sought directly from the child victim.  They clearly explain to children what will happen during an exam, including when something might hurt, using developmentally appropriate and thoughtful language.  S.A.N.E.s may use ‘medical play’ to help prepare children for particular procedures, allowing a child to take a teddy bear’s blood pressure or play with an empty syringe.  Finally, S.A.N.E. programs work to create environments that are friendly and accessible to sexual violence survivors of all ages.

Vermont is fortunate to have a Pediatric S.A.N.E. program that is gaining strength and capacity across the state.  This approach will continue to ensure that children who experience sexual abuse receive expert sensitive medical care that considers their experiences of trauma and offers responses tailored to their unique needs.

Vermont’s definition of Child Sexual Abuse:

Any act or acts by any person involving sexual molestation or exploitation of a child including but not limited to incest, prostitution, rape, sodomy, or any lewd and lascivious conduct involving a child. Sexual abuse also includes the aiding, abetting, counseling, hiring, or procuring of a child to perform or participate in any photograph, motion picture, exhibition, show, representation, or other presentation which, in whole or in part, depicts a sexual conduct, sexual excitement or sadomasochistic abuse involving a child.

If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, call Vermont’s Child Protection Line to report it — 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.


[i]U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2012

[ii]Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2005). Adverse Childhood Experiences Study: Data and Statistics. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control

[iii] 2012 Report on Child Protection in Vermont. Vermont Agency of Human Services, Department for Children and Families. 2013

This article is reprinted from the Spring 2014 Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence’s Newsletter. Follow the link for more great articles.