Characteristics of acute sexual assault care in New England emergency departments

Author Department

Emergency Medicine; Surgery; Healthcare Quality

Document Type

Article, Peer-reviewed

Publication Date



Objective: Interventions such as written protocols and sexual assault nurse examiner programs improve outcomes for patients who have experienced acute sexual assault. How widely and in what ways such interventions have been implemented is largely unknown. We sought to characterize the current state of acute sexual assault care in New England.

Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional survey of individuals acute with knowledge of emergency department (ED) operations in relation to sexual assault care at New England adult EDs. Our primary outcomes included the availability and coverage of dedicated and non-dedicated sexual assault forensic examiners in EDs. Secondary outcomes included frequency of and reasons for patient transfer; treatment before transfer; availability of written sexual assault protocols; characteristics and scope of practice of dedicated and non-dedicated sexual assault forensic examiners (SAFEs), provision of care in SAFEs' absence; availability, coverage, and characteristics of victim advocacy and follow-up resources; and barriers to and facilitators of care.

Results: We approached all 186 distinct adult EDs in New England to recruit participants; 92 (49.5%) individuals participated, most commonly physician medical directors (n = 34, 44.1%). Two thirds of participants reported they at times have access to a dedicated (n = 52, 65%, 95% confidence interval [CI], 54.5%-75.5%) or non-dedicated (n = 50, 64.1%; 95% CI, 53.5%-74.7%) SAFE, but fewer reported always having this access (n = 9, 17.3%; 95% CI, 7%-27.6%; n = 13, 26%; 95% CI, 13.8%-38.2%). We describe in detail findings related to our secondary outcomes.

Conclusions: Although SAFEs are recognized as a strategy to provide high-quality acute sexual assault care, their availability and coverage is limited.