By Jordan Hensley, Hickory Daily Record
Shepard’s certification allows her to perform an exam alone. A nurse who does not have a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner certification would have to perform the exam with a physician, she said. To earn her certification, Shepard had to log long hours of meetings with attorneys and law enforcement and spend considerable time giving and observing the exams.
When patients arrive, they may not say they’ve been assaulted. Sometimes they tell the front desk they need an injury checked out or they complain of pain or vaginal bleeding.
“We try to get those people back and sequestered as quickly as possible, because one, it is a traumatic event for them,” Shepard said. “They don’t need to be out touching other things or other people touching them because they are walking, living evidence.”
“One of the most beneficial things (for their case) is when we take pictures,” Shepard added. “And when you’re taking pictures, you’re asking someone to undress in front of you. You’re a stranger to them. You’re asking them to bare private parts. … It’s traumatic to the patient.”
Overall, the kit takes two to four hours to complete. Shepard said she likes to take her time to let the patient have a moment to cry if they need to. Ultimately, a patient doesn’t have to submit to every part of the exam, but Shepard does take the time to explain to them why it is important.
After the photos, DNA collection begins. This includes swabs of the mouth, throat and genitals. Pubic hair samples are also taken.
The clothing the survivor wears to the hospital is taken as forensic evidence. At Frye, Shepard says hospital staff members try to have a family member or a friend bring fresh clothing. If that doesn’t work out, the survivor is given disposable underwear and scrubs.
“You make sure documentation is complete, they have information for follow-up with either a shelter if they can’t go home, with police if they need to fill out a report or with mental health, if that’s needed,” she said.
In most cases, it is up to the survivor to decide whether or not to press charges.
If victims are unsure if they want to report their rape, the kit can be sent to the crime lab marked as anonymous. If survivors choose to have their kit tested in order to seek legal action, they can change their mind within a certain time frame, usually up to three years, Shepard said.
The network reports that out of every 1,000 rapes, 995 rapists will not be convicted.
In data analyzed by Carolina Public Press, out of 12 defendants charged with sexual assault in Catawba County from 2014-18 whose cases had been resolved by June 30, four were convicted, including one by a jury verdict. Two additional cases were still unresolved.
While women are more likely to be sexually assaulted than men, one in 33 men will be the victim of attempted rape or completed rape, according to the network, whereas one out of six women will be the victim of attempted rape or completed rape in her lifetime.
Among gender identities, 47 percent of transgender people are sexually assaulted in their lifetime, according to a 2015 study from the National Center for Transgender Equality.
Frye completed at least 12 sexual assault exams in 2018. Hickory’s other hospital, Catawba Valley Medical Center, did 30 exams in 2018, according to Catawba Valley’s emergency department administrator Chuck Scronce. That brings the county total of exams to at least 42 in 2018.