LiveSmart: Forensic Nurses – Providing Support and Care to Crime Victims

[This story was written by Grace I. Coons, MSN, RN, FNP-BC, NYSAFE, supervisor of the Forensic Nurse Examiner Program with St. Peter’s Crime Victim Services]

Forensics is the fastest growing nursing specialty, providing care and support to individuals who are impacted by all forms of violence, including sexual assault. This year, International Forensic Nurses Week is celebrated November 9-13, in recognition of the expert, comprehensive and compassionate health care these professionals provide every day in their communities.

A Forensic Nurse Examiner performs specialty examinations for those impacted by violence, including:

  • Sexual assault
  • Domestic violence
  • Intimate partner violence
  • Elder abuse
  • Child abuse
  • Neglect
  • Mistreatment
  • Human trafficking

The primary purpose of the Forensic Nurse Examiner is to prioritize the medical stabilization and safety of each patient, while offering the option for medical documentation of the incident, injuries, and the possibility of DNA preservation. They undergo specialty training and certifications to provide these services, including the utilization of the New York State Sexual Assault Evidence collection kit and/or the Drug Facilitated evidence collection kit.

Patients in need of Forensic Nurse Examiner services are first presented with a Patient Bill of Rights. They are then educated on the services available for their individual circumstance. Informed consent is obtained by the examiner; patients may consent to all services, only certain portions, or decline all services. Communication to law enforcement and reporting is at the discretion of the patient, not the examiner.

The patient interview is a detailed questioning process and helps examiners understand the situation and medical history of the patient. This is necessary to establish what types of testing and treatment might be appropriate for the patient.

The Forensic Nurse Examiner collaborates with the health care team to obtain any necessary orders and assess for injury. Injury documentation is completed on body diagrams and, if agreed to by the patient, photographs taken for evidence. Sample swabs and/or clothing may be collected and packaged, with a chain of custody maintained until the evidence is released to law enforcement for testing at the NYS Crime Lab. Again, it is important to note, this step only takes place with the patient’s permission.

Should you find yourself or a loved one in the need of a forensic exam, please go to your nearest St. Peter’s Health Partners Emergency Department or call the 24 hour hotline at 518-271-3257. The team is on call 24/7 at Samaritan Hospital, St. Peter’s Hospital, and the Albany Memorial Campus to provide assistance and start the healing process for those who are victims of violence.

St. Peter’s Health Partners’ Sexual Assault and Crime Victims Assistance Program (SACVAP) and the St. Peter’s Forensic Examiner Program recently joined to become St. Peter’s Crime Victim Services. The new partnership and name encompasses all services the program provides, with a mission to reduce the incidence and trauma of all crimes through person-centered emotional support, advocacy, and medical services, as well as community-based prevention efforts.

St. Peter’s Crime Victim Services offers short-term counseling, trauma therapy, and support groups to help victims/survivors of crime cope with and recover from their experiences. They also offer advocacy services during medical and legal appointments. All services are free and confidential.

For more information about Crime Victim Services, please call 518-271-3410 or visit our website at

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