April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month which provides us with the opportunity to both honor survivors and raise awareness for the future prevention of this crime in our community. One way that Centra continues to fight against these atrocious acts is through its Forensic Service’s Team that recently celebrated 25 years of service.
Centra’s Forensic Program was started in June 1997 to establish a staff that was dedicated to providing trauma informed care for patients who present as victims of violence. The nurses on the Forensics Team are trained on how to speak with patients (without causing further trauma or asking leading questions), complete physical assessments, collect and properly handle evidence and testify as an expert in court.
While the program began as a Lynchburg based operation that saw less than 100 patients per year, it has expanded to service the Gretna area through the Gretna Medical Center and a Child Advocacy Center that is based in Forest. Additionally, Centra’s Forensic Services Team receives referrals from law enforcement, social services departments and attorneys from Campbell, Amherst, Appomattox, Bedford, Nelson, Prince Edward, Pittsylvania, Danville, Halifax and Charlotte Counties. Today, the team serves close to 1000 patients per year.
With a team of 11 forensic nurses and one director, the Forensics Team is active in the community by providing education and raising awareness related to sexual assault while also contributing to multi-disciplinary and sexual assault response teams.
While their conviction rate currently sits at 96%, the Forensics Team just invested in Secure Digital Forensics Imaging (SDFI) cameras that increase the quality of their photographs by allowing for a higher resolution. The images are saved in a format that makes it impossible for the user to alter the original file in any form. The software also has a negative invert filter that will allow documentation of injuries such as bruising that is not as visible to the naked eye.
Centra’s Forensics Team’s advancements extend past just cutting-edge technology. The entire group has pledged to be a part of the Start by Believing Campaign, a global campaign that is focused on transforming the way individuals such as law enforcement officials and nurses respond to sexual assault through improved personal and professional reactions.