To reach the Movement to End Sexual Assault's 24-hour crisis hotline, call 303-443-7300
It's been over 10 years since victims of rape have been able to get their sexual assault examinations done in Boulder County. But the Boulder District Attorney's Office is now leading a push to bring a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program back to Boulder to ease the stress on victims who currently must go to either Loveland or Westminster for that procedure.
"Sexual assault prosecutions are something that is very important to this office and to this community," said Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett. "It's frustrating that we don't have a convenient SANE facility that the victims can access during a very difficult process."
Boulder County used to be home to a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program that opened in the Child and Family Advocacy Center in Niwot in 1997. The program was staffed by nurses trained in forensics and specialized in performing sexual assault examinations, which are carried out in most sexual assault investigations.
But the program shut down in 1999 after its medical director and four nurses resigned following a dispute with the Boulder County Sheriff's Office on the handling of a sexual assault case. The Movement to End Sexual Assault program in Boulder tried to host a program for a few years, but funding issues forced them to drop it in 2002.
So for the past decade, victims of sexual assaults would have to be taken by law enforcement to SANE units in either Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland or St. Anthony's Hospital in Westminster -- 30 or 40 minute drives depending on where the victim lives.
"They not only have to have the exams done, they have to drive to St. Anthony's or Medical Center of the Rockies," said Lora Atkinson, the executive director of MESA. "It would be incredible to have a local facility where the exams could be done."
Atkinson said going through the examinations can be a very traumatic experience for the victims who are sometimes just hours removed from the assault.
"It takes a lot of courage and bravery to go get a forensic exam," Atkinson said. "It's important for our community to remember sexual assault is a traumatic crime and having a supportive place to go and having it close to where the survivor lives will help with the trauma."
'Every city needs one'
When Renee Dulany was bound and raped at knifepoint in her bedroom in Longmont in 1996, Boulder's SANE program hadn't yet opened, so instead she was taken to a hospital in Longmont for her examination.
"There was a whole lot of chaos going on, it was not horribly comfortable," Dulany said. "It's like going through the whole incident again."
Dulany said she thinks the environment at a SANE facility would likely have been less traumatizing than a busy hospital.
"SANE clinics will have some sensitivity that you're not going to get at a regular hospital," she said.
But while she wasn't at a SANE facility, Dulany said because the facility was at least close to where she lived, she had friends and family there to support her. She said if she was taken to either Loveland or Westminster like victims are today, she is not sure if that would have been the case.
"I walked out and had a room full of family and support, and I can't imagine that happening if I went that far away," Dulany said. "If they would have taken me that far from my home and family, I don't know that I would have done very well at all, not that I was doing well anyway."
Dulany -- who now lives in Englewood and has become an advocate for sexual assault victims -- said she thinks there should be a SANE facility in every city.
"I think every city needs one within 15 minutes," she said. "I would have been an absolute mess if I didn't have people there for me."
Essential for prosecution
Dulany's case also serves as a reminder for how important SANE examinations can be. Dulany's rapist was not found for 10 years until DNA collected from her examination was put into a database and turned out to be a match to her former neighbor, Rudy Gaytan, who was later convicted in the crime.
"A SANE exam has become an essential piece of the prosecution of a sexual assault," said Boulder County Deputy District Attorney Katharina Booth, who is the chief of the sexual assault and domestic violence unit with the DA's office. "It can make or break a case."
Booth said the examinations are particularly important in cases in which the victims were either asleep, drugged or too drunk to remember details of the assault or if the assault even occurred.
"Oftentimes, especially in Boulder, we have a fairly large case load of very intoxicated females who are passed out or otherwise debilitated and don't know what happened to them or don't know if they were sexually assaulted," Booth said.
"Having a SANE exam completed is again the essential piece to help prove that sexual contact occurred."
Booth said investigators try to have SANE examinations done within 72 hours of the assault, since evidence can be lost with the passage of time. But with time such a factor, victims of sexual assaults -- which most often occur late at night or early in the morning -- can often find themselves being driven to Westminster or Loveland and then waiting for an on-call nurse to respond.
"People are tired and exhausted, and add the trauma of the event and it can completely wreck a victim," Booth said.
Booth said that is why she thinks a closer SANE facility would encourage more victims to get the examinations -- which are completely voluntary.
"I think it would really encourage our survivors to participate in the examination," Booth said. "There's the comfort zone of being in your own community and friends or victim advocates can get there."
Added Atkinson, "There's a healing process that sexual assault survivors have to go through. Having the exam closer to our community where they are treated properly during the evidence collection will help in the recovery."
Getting the program
But just because Boulder County could benefit from a SANE facility doesn't necessarily mean such a program would be sustainable in Boulder County.
Janine D'Anniballe was the director of MESA when the Boulder County program ultimately shut down. While the Niwot facility closed in 1999 due to the conflict with the DA's Office, she said MESA's program had other issues.
"We didn't have enough funding to keep it sustainable, we didn't have enough nurses and we didn't have a high enough volume of cases in Boulder County area to keep the nurses up to speed on their skills," D'Anniballe said. She added that while it was disappointing to see the program in Boulder close, in a way she was relieved to see the program move to St. Anthony's.
"I knew they would have the ability to recruit more nurses and there would be a higher volume of cases to keep the program more sustainable," she said. "I honestly feel like it was a mixed bag. On one hand, it felt like a loss for the community and a loss for the victims. But there was almost a sense of relief in some ways because it was a more sustainable option for the long-term viability of the program."
But D'Anniballe said she had hope Boulder could now sustain a SANE facility.
"Obviously a big part is what entity could step in to fund it," she said. "St. Anthony's has really backed the program and continues funding to keep it going. If Boulder County can get behind the program from a financial standpoint -- and not just a moral support standpoint but actually contribute financial resources to the program -- then it can work."
Booth added there are some other obstacles to finding a facility to host a SANE program. Many of the medical procedures done after a SANE exam involve contraception, which can rule out some facilities with religious ties. She said there is also a high turnover rate for SANE nurses.
"By the very nature of that kind of work, it's traumatic work and it can be pretty hard on medical providers who do that kind of work," Booth said. "You are helping young ladies who are in one of the worst states of their lives."
Booth also added it's important that a Boulder SANE unit not interfere with the operation of the St. Anthony's or Medical Center of the Rockies SANE programs.
"They're both excellent programs, and we certainly want to see their survival and success," Booth said.
The Boulder Police Department said while it would take its victims to a Boulder SANE program, they are still very happy with the work the SANE unit at St. Anthony's does.
"I think if something were available here that was very accessible to us we would use it, but we're very happy with St. Anthony's," said Boulder police spokeswoman Kim Kobel. "We have a great relationship with them and they have a really great program."
But Garnett said while his office also has not had any problem with the St. Anthony's program, he still thinks Boulder needs its own.
"We appreciate St. Anthony's working with us, but we need to get that capacity back in Boulder County," Garnett said.
Garnett said he is reaching out to local police chiefs and other agencies to get the ball rolling. He believes in order to prevent the type of interagency disagreements that led to the closing of the SANE unit in 1999, his office needs to help get everyone on the same page.
"The first issue is there has to be strong leadership and it has to come from my office," Garnett said. "My view is that Boulder County is a community that cares a lot about public safety including sex crimes and also has a university. We should have a convenient and accessible SANE facility for the folks that report a sexual assault."
Atkinson said that new leadership is why she is hopeful a Boulder SANE program will become a reality.
"I think it demonstrates our DA's office is very progressive and victim centered that Stan is taking an active approach to getting the conversation started," she said. "I think the message the survivors receive if you have this available in the community is that rape is a problem for the entire community."
Contact Camera Staff Writer Mitchell Byars at 303-473-1329 or firstname.lastname@example.org.