School of Nursing

September 28, 2018

Caring for the Courageous

From all that has come to the fore recently relating to sexual assault, one of the most important takeaways is that the situation is much more complicated than many had assumed. Inequity and misuse of power is almost always at the heart of such assaults.

If you have been listening with an open heart and mind, it would be difficult to not hear the anguish and pain of the many women and men who have come forward to say they were assaulted—some by famous people, others by religious or other authority figures.

It would also be difficult to not understand that sexual assault can be profoundly traumatic and have lifelong effects on psychological and physical health. As with other kinds of mental trauma, including that of war, the reactions of individuals vary. Some shut away the events in a mental box, refusing to access them for years or decades. Others seek solace, however temporary, in drugs or alcohol or extreme risk-taking behavior. Sadly, some ultimately find the pain unbearable and take their own lives.

The trauma is compounded when, in an act of courage, victims come forward with their stories only to be accused of lying because they are unable to recall specific details on time, date, and place. The victims are once again victimized, because denial is easier than accountability.

For some victims, the current spate of public attention to issues surrounding sexual assault will result in a reliving of their trauma, with attendant PTSD-like symptoms. This is something to which everyone in the nursing community should be both alert and responsive.  Johanna Hulick, MN, RN, clinical faculty in the Department of Psychosocial & Community Health in the UW School of Nursing, who has worked as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner at Harborview Medical Center for the past 14 years stated, “Nurses have a professional responsibility to understand and provide trauma-informed care, which acknowledges the effects of trauma on our patients’ lives and aims to avoid re-traumatization. This starts with believing. Survivors deserve to control when, how, and with whom they share their experiences. It is an honor to care for those who have experienced sexual assault and who take the courageous steps toward seeking our care.”

Nursing stands unequivocally with the victims. We believe them. We support them. We care for and about them. And we have a duty of care to protect them from the bullying, aggression, and shaming that has become the all-too-frequent response  of perpetrators and their defenders.

Nursing plays an important role in providing support and help to all victims of sexual abuse. This includes being ready with crucial resources that respond to the extraordinary needs of sexual assault victims.

If you, or someone you know as a friend, family member, or colleague needs assistance, the following resources are available. Be gentle, be compassionate, and be helpful by providing this information to anyone in need. For resources that are available to students located on all three UW campuses, please review the UW’s sexual assault webpage at www.washington.edu/sexualassault/

For those who have experienced assault that has occurred within the last 120 hours, a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner is available to provide care 24 hours/7 days a week in the following local Emergency Departments:

For information on specific resources:

For information on Clinics and Centers at all three campuses:

Community resources include: