The emotional challenges faced by Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners: “ER nursing is stressful on a good day without rape victims”

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Although research has indicated that counselors, advocates and social workers who assist rape victims experience vicarious trauma or psychological consequences as a result of their exposure to victims' traumatic experiences, little is known about Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners' (SANEs') experiences. This qualitative research explores SANEs' experiences of vicarious trauma and burnout as a result of treating rape victims, and the coping strategies they implement to reduce both. Data from interviews with 39 SANEs reveal that when asked about their difficulties as a SANE and the hardest part of their job, the majority (67%) discussed vicarious trauma, the emotional demands associated with the job, worrying about victims after they leave the hospital, and burnout. More than half (51%) of SANEs interviewed specifically indicated that they have experienced vicarious trauma as a result of treating rape victims, and 46% indicated they have experienced burnout at least to some degree. All SANEs, regardless of whether they believe they have experienced vicarious trauma or burnout, have ways to cope after hard cases. These coping mechanisms include talking to family members, calling or reaching out to other SANEs, program coordinators or rape victim advocates and detectives, participating in meetings with other SANEs where the focus is on problems after difficult cases, and finding relaxing activities.

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