St. Peter’s Health offers forensic services 24 hours a day, seven days a week to Emergency Department patients who have experienced sexual violence. Safety and privacy are the top priority when providing forensic services.
Patients presenting to the Emergency Department as victims of sexual violence will be seen and evaluated by a medical provider in the Emergency Department. Patients can also be seen by our specially-trained sexual assault response team (SART). This team includes an emergency department provider, a forensic nurse examiner (FNE) and a local advocate from an outside community agency. We provide timely, competent, and trauma-informed care in a confidential setting. Along with treatment and evaluation by the medical providers, services may include a forensic medical exam with DNA evidence collection if applicable.
What to do if you are sexually assaulted
- Get to a safe place if you can
- Try to avoid any hygiene care, like showering, bathing, washing your hands or brushing your teeth. If you have already done any of these things you can still get an exam.
- Avoid changing, washing or destroying your clothing. There might be substances on your clothing that could be collected as evidence. If you do remove your clothing, please use a paper bag to bring the clothes, including underwear, with you to the Emergency Department. Plastic bags should not be used if possible.
- The sooner you seek medical attention the more evidence the nurse will be able to collect. You have up to 120 hours to have a forensic medical exam with DNA evidence collection completed.
- If you do wish to report to law enforcement, you can have evidence collected and turned over to law enforcement. If evidence is collected early, it is more likely to help with investigations. Evidence can be destroyed by everyday activities like eating/drinking, showering/bathing, using the bathroom or changing clothes.
- If you do not want to report to law enforcement, you can have evidence collected and stored in a secure area for up to one year using the U.S. Department of Justice’s Forensic Rape Examination Payment Program (FREPP) program
- If you were sexually assaulted more than 120 hours ago, we still encourage you to present to an emergency department for care. While we can no longer collect DNA evidence, there are many services that are still available to you. You can be evaluated by an emergency department provider to address any medical concerns you might have. We can still assess any injures you might have and take photographs if you request. We will provide education regarding testing and treatment for any sexually transmitted infections and HIV. We will connect you with the community resources that are available to you.
What to know about forensic medical exams
- St. Peter’s offers forensic services in the Emergency Department 24 hours a day, seven days a week
- You are not billed for the forensic medical examination or any medications administered during the examination
- If you receive any further care or treatment outside of the forensic medical exam, you may receive a bill for those services. These services include any additional medications, imaging or evaluation of other medical conditions. However, there are programs available to you to help cover the expenses.
- Nothing will be done without your consent, and you can chose to stop the exam at any point
- Care will begin in the Emergency Department, where you are seen by a medical provider and evaluated for any medical concerns. This provider will ask basic questions regarding the assault to ensure they address all medical concerns. You will also be seen by a nurse who is specially trained in sexual violence to complete the forensic medical exam with DNA evidence collection if applicable.
- St. Peter's works with community partners to make sure all your needs are met. This often includes a local advocate and a law enforcement agent if requested/applicable.
- Patients over the age of 18 do not have to report assaults to law enforcement at the time of the exam. St. Peter's greatly values privacy and confidentiality, we will not notify anyone of your assault unless you give permission. This includes any higher education institutions.
- For all patients under the age of 18, mandatory reporting laws will be followed by the hospital, which may include reporting to law enforcement or child protective services
- You will get a full explanation of the exam and can stop the exam at any time. With your consent, the process may include a head to toe exam, assessing and documenting any injuries present and DNA evidence collection. Photos may be taken as well, if you choose.
- The medical provider and forensic nurse will provide education regarding medications that prevent sexually transmitted disease and HIV, emergency contraception and immunizations as needed. You will not be charged for any of these medications.
- At the end of the exam, you are given the opportunity to shower and given new clothing
- You will be given specific discharge instructions regarding medications administered during the exam, recommended follow up care, information about community services available to you and instructions on when to return to the Emergency Department if needed
- An advocate can assist with any needs related to the assault or your safety
About the program
Created in 2022, the forensic nurse program at St. Peter’s is run in collaboration with the Emergency Department. The program team includes a forensic nurse coordinator and a team of forensic nurse examiners who have received special trauma informed care and training in evidence collection.
The program currently offers forensic medical exams to victims of sexual violence. The goal is to expand forensic services to serve patients who have experienced domestic violence, human trafficking, physical abuse and strangulation.
Community response team
St. Peter’s is also working with partners throughout our service area to provide victims’ access to care, resources and support. The multidisciplinary team includes:
- St. Peter’s Health medical providers/nurses
- The Friendship Center
- Lewis and Clark County Child Advocacy Center of AWARE
- Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office
- Helena Police Department
- Carroll College Public Safety/Title 9 Representatives
- National Guard Sexual Assault Response Team
Location of forensic nurse services
Helena, MT 59601