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Sexual assault services in Portland need improvement

August 17, 2006

Portland has a disconcerting problem when it comes to providing services to people who have been sexually assaulted.  We don’t have a centralized agency within the city where one can open a door and receive a spectrum of services.  We also don’t have a straightforward medical response system, which is the subject of a news article in yesterday’s Willamette Week entitled “Raped and Ignored.” 

If you are raped or sexually assualted and you desire medical treatment (which I strongly encourage), naturally you want to go to the hospital of your preference or just the one that’s closest.  This is what happens: 

…if they’re not critically injured, women are advised by emergency rooms across the county to go to Oregon Health & Science University, which has the county’s only hospital with specialized personnel called “sexual assault nurse examiners,” or SANEs.

Told to drive to another hospital, many women decide not to put themselves through the ordeal of admission twice, and go home without proper treatment, says Erin Ellis, executive director of the Sexual Assault Resource Center in Portland.

Melissa, a case worker at the Portland Women’s Crisis Line, says that leaves already-traumatized women wondering on the spot, “How many places do I have to go to tell that this terrible thing happened to me?”

The article goes on to report that though PSU’s health clinic also has specialized nurses, not many providers, let alone the general public, is aware that they are available to people other than students. 

An obvious problem with this situation is that Multnomah County is big.  It’s the most densely populated county, and it’s also shaped a bit like a caterpiller, stretching out beyond Multnomah Falls.  Having only one hospital that provides critical services to sexual assault surivivors in Portland is a huge injustice.  All of our major hospitals need Sexual Assualt Nurse Examiners and to be able to accomodate any rape victim, reporting or not, who walks in their doors.

Services to sexual assault survivors here in Portland have been inconsistent at best.  Fortunately there are several coalitions at work and many groups working together or independently to change this situation.  If you want more information or would like to get involved with volunteering, you should get in touch with the Portland Women’s Crisis Line, which has a sexual assault program, or the Sexual Assault Resource Center in Washington County.  Both have 24-hour hotlines you can call for free, confidential support and follow-up, including in-person accompaniment to the hospital.

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