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Jocelyn Anderson, a forensic nurse and researcher at Penn State University, found her calling in the field of forensic nursing after completing her final nursing practicum in a South African intensive care unit (ICU). During her time there, she primarily witnessed two types of violence—physical and gun violence, and sexual assault violence. Oftentimes, the victims of sexual assault would come into the ICU after attempting suicide following their attack.

Forensic nursing has emerged as a discipline to help curb the harmful effects that sexual assault victims face. The International Association of Forensic Nurses defines forensic nursing as the practice of nursing globally when health and legal systems interact. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field of forensic nursing is expected to see a 26 percent growth rate over the next decade.

Originally from a rural community in Minnesota, Anderson had never been exposed to this kind of violence before. She had been introduced to forensic nursing during her training but she wasn’t aware of the opportunities the field had to offer until her time spent in South Africa led her to enroll in a forensic nursing graduate program to help victims recover from sexual assault trauma.

After earning a nursing degree, there are several forensic nursing certificate programs and graduate programs available in the field. After completing these programs, graduates serve as the first line of treatment to victims. Individuals with training in forensic nursing can also become sexual assault nurse examiners (SANEs), which are nurses specializing in domestic violence, child abuse nurses, death investigators, legal nurse consultants, and more.

After completing her graduate degree, Anderson worked at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center as a forensic nurse. Her role also involved helping patients who wanted to seek criminal justice for the crimes committed against them. She provided patients with interventions, such as evidence collection and photo documentation, and collaborated with law enforcement officials and attorneys to facilitate prosecuting these sensitive cases.

Anderson tells, “As the forensic nurse responding in these hospitals, we were responsible for providing both forensic and medical care to those patients after a sexual assault. The physical impacts as well as the mental ones on these patients were the two main aspects we focused on right when they entered through the door.”

The field of forensic and sexual assault nursing is relatively new but it is already proving to help provide better care for victims of sexual assault trauma. Research examining these programs has shown that patients who received care from a specifically trained forensic or sexual assault nurse after an assault were more likely to be given the appropriate care and medication and more likely to have a sexual assault kit collected correctly. Therefore, they are also more likely to have their criminal case moved forward and the traumatic experience will be lessened.

To learn more about Jocelyn Anderson, a forensic nurse and researcher at Penn State University who helps support sexual assaults victims and serves as an advocate for advancements and growth in the field, visit here.

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