ThedaCare has new camera to document sexual assault and abuse cases

Pictures taken can help once cases reach the court system
Published: Jun. 7, 2023 at 7:21 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 17, 2023 at 10:29 AM CDT
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APPLETON, Wis. (WBAY) - Documentation is often the first step toward justice when it comes to sexual assault and domestic violence.

ThedaCare’s Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Program has a new camera that takes specialized photos to aid in that documentation - and help in the court system.

“I really hope that we can do our patients justice,” said Leah Eckhart, Critical Program Specialist for the ThedaCare SANE Program.

“We see child sexual assault and abuse, also victims of domestic violence, strangulation and human trafficking,” she added.

SANE nurses get specialized training through the Wisconsin Department of Justice and the International Association of Forensic Nurses.

Just last year, the SANE Program saw 122 patients. In 2021, there were 125 and in 2020 the number was 77 patients - lower, due to under-reporting during the pandemic.

“I think we followed nationwide where people weren’t seeking the care, they were kind of stuck at home during Covid so we are seeing more of those patients come for help now, which is great,” Eckhart noted.

Right now, the SANE Program is on pace to see similar numbers as last year. But with a new tool - SANE nurses and patients are seeing those numbers through a better lens.

“The camera utilizes what’s called a macro lens which means basically a camera that specializes in taking very close up photos so we can really get great photos, very detailed photos close up of injuries that are on the body,” Eckhart explained.

A donation from Kimberly Clark to the ThedaCare Family of Foundations has helped to provide this new specialized camera and photo storage system worth $25,000 - adding to the compassionate care of survivors.

“We have a foot pedal that operates the camera which really helps in genital exams, and even if we just need our hands throughout the exam, we’re able to utilize that foot pedal to help take care of the patient as well as get what we need,” Eckhart said.

Upon being asked if she can essentially see if somebody was injured a day or two ago and maybe some of that bruising has possibly subsided, Eckhart responded: “Yes, yep. We can’t date bruises but absolutely we’re able to use those filters to better visualize the extent of the injury.”

All photos are taken with the consent of the patient, but the pictures are only handed over to law enforcement if the patient is ready to file charges.

“18 or older, you do not have to report the crime, we’re not required to report the crime. so we do have patients coming to us to make sure they’re okay medically, that they’re safe and looking for resources,” Eckhart explained.

The job requires compassion for people in our communities experiencing a difficult moment in the their lives.

“Most of our nurses have outside jobs, outside of this so this is a secondary job for them, so they’re not doing it for the paycheck but because they truly, truly love to care for this vulnerable population,” Eckhart continued.

Right now the ThedaCare SANE Program has a staff of 12 nurses.

They are hiring four more SANE nurses.

“I think we have a lot of hope to offer and I think what’s really neat is our nurses come in ready to spend sometimes up to 4 to 5 hours with a patient,” Eckhart said.

These exams are patient-focused, so that SANE nurses will document what the patient feels comfortable with.

”We offer them some more power and control back over the situation by giving them choices of what the best care looks like for them because we know that’s not the same for two people,” Eckhart explained further.

Giving that power back to survivors of sexual assault and abuse to hold their abusers accountable in court.

ThedaCare’s sexual assault nurse examiner program has a new camera that takes specialized photos to aid in documentation and help in the court system.