Island Health’s forensic nurse examiner program expanding

Every sexual assault case that Janet Calnan works on is like a complex puzzle that she’s trying to piece together.

  • Dec. 15, 2016 7:00 a.m.
Jan Calnan (left)

Jan Calnan (left)

Every sexual assault case that Janet Calnan works on is like a complex puzzle that she’s trying to piece together.

As a forensic nurse examiner with Island Health, each case is different from the last, but with one common goal — finding out what happened to the woman or man sitting in front of her.

“My job is to meld the medical and judicial system together where I can link the two back and forth,” said Calnan, coordinator for the forensic nurse examiner program for the South Island.

When women or men who have been sexually assaulted call the Vancouver Island Crisis Line, they are directed to one of the 30 forensic nurse examiners across the Island, a program that’s currently in the process of expanding.

Victims have three options for care: they can receive medical care or medical care and forensic collection of evidence that is securely stored for a year, meaning they don’t have to speak to the police right away, but have the opportunity to do so in the future. The third option is medical care and forensic collection and in the end, handing over evidence to police.

Should a patient op for forensic collection, Calnan’s work begins.

She documents any injuries inflicted during the sexual assault and collects swabs from the body surface. There are 20 samples examiners can collect, however, not every sample is taken from patients, as it depends on the events that occurred.

Calnan’s job is not to say whether or not the victim is telling the truth, but to look at the evidence presented before her, both objectively and subjectively.

For example, if a patient who was sexually assaulted said they were was choked as well, Calnan would look for changes in their voice, bruising and pattern of bruising, which would tell her what the patient was choked with, such as a hand, belt or piece of rope. If someone was attacked on the Gallooping Goose, she would look for debris in the patient’s underwear.

“Those help corroborate their story,” said Calnan, adding the majority of patients she sees who have been sexually assaulted have no injuries. But she’s also seen patients come in with more than 100 documented injuries.

“It’s not my job to decide if he or she are telling the truth, but to collect the data and the evidence that goes with their story.”

Island Health’s forensic nurse examiner program began in Victoria in 1996 and was modelled after a similar program at Surrey Memorial Hospital. In the past, people who had been sexually assaulted had to go to emergency rooms for physicians to see them. They often waited hours and many women would leave without getting help. Now, when they call the crisis line, they can been seen by examiners more quickly.

As part of the program, examiners also deal with child maltreatment, interpersonal violence, and provide patients with legal services beyond the examination room. Throughout the year, forensic nurse examiners see roughly 100 to 125 patients, who ragne in age from 18 to 25. Now, the program is expanding to offer support 24 hours a day, seven days a week around the Island with more nurses being trained to look at sexual assault from a forensic stand point.

With the opening of the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre on Cedar Hill Road earlier this year, Calnan is optimistic more victims of sexual assault will come forward, adding only one third of the cases she sees are reported to police.

“One of the deterrents to people to be seen is they don’t want to go to an emergency room . . . it’s intimidating” she said, noting most of the time, a person is sexually assaulted by someone they know. “Just being able to say something happened, I want to look after myself because I want the power to look after myself, just makes a huge difference to our patients and their outcome.”

To reach the Vancouver Island Crisis Line call 1-888-494-3888.

 

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

SD62 bus driver Kerry Zado said it’s common to see drivers lose their patience and pass by his bus while he’s picking up students during the morning commute. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
School bus driver laments motorists pass while red lights are flashing

All buses in Sooke School District outfitted with stop sign cameras

A cyclist navigates the shoulder in traffic along Oak Bay Avenue in Victoria. (John Luton Photo)
Oak Bay council supports Fort Street bike lanes

Victoria bike lanes would connect to Cadboro Bay Road

The Victoria Fire Department extinguished a 15 foot tent fire in the 500-block of Ellice Street Jan. 19. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Victoria police investigating after 15-foot flames engulf tent

Flames damage nearby business in 500-block of Ellice Street

(Black Press Media files)
Transport Canada not budging on enclosed deck rules, despite calls from BC Ferries union

There have been at least 23 cases of the U.K. variant detected in Canada, four of which are in B.C.

Victoria police arrested a man after at least 14 downtown locations were damaged Jan. 20. (Courtesy of Victoria Police Department)
Victoria glass smashing suspect believed to be water taxi thief

Man arrested for damaging at least 14 downtown locations

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, speaks at a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
B.C. records 500 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, 14 deaths

Outbreak at Surrey Pretrial jail, two more in health care

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Jan. 19

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Rod Bitten of Union Bay won $500,000 in the Lotto Max draw on Jan. 15. Photo supplied
Vancouver Island electrician gets shocking surprise with $500K Extra win

Rod Bitten has been hard at work with home renovations, which is… Continue reading

Eighteen-year-old Aidan Webber died in a marine accident in 2019. He was a Canadian Junior BMX champion from Nanaimo. (Submitted)
Inadequate safety training a factor in teen BMX star’s workplace death in 2019

Aidan Webber was crushed by a barge at a fish farm near Port Hardy

Oyster River Fire Rescue members were called out to a suspicious fire in Black Creek. Two vehicles parked at a private residence were destroyed by fire. Photo courtesy Oyster River Fire Rescue
Suspicious fire destroys two vehicles at Vancouver Island residence

Oyster River Fire Rescue personnel were dispatched to a fire at a… Continue reading

Seven streets in downtown Duncan, including Station Street, will soon have new native names added to their signage. (Submitted graphic)
New Duncan street signs will be in English and Hul’q’umi’num

Seven streets to get additional names in First Nations language

Southern resident killer whales in B.C. waters. Research shows the population’s females are more negatively influenced by vessel traffic than males. (Photo supplied by Ocean Wise Conservation Association)
Female orcas less likely to feed in presence of vessel traffic: study

Research the southern resident population raises concerns over reproduction capacity

A suspect has been arrested in connection with fires at Drinkwater Elementary (pictured) and École Mount Prevost. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Arson suspect arrested after fires at Cowichan Valley schools

Drinkwater Elementary and Mount Prevost schools hit within a week

Most Read