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Two Mitchell nurses to get forensic training to treat rape victims

The Avera Queen of Peace campus in Mitchell. (Republic file photo)

Mitchell area hospitals will soon be able to offer specialized examining services for victims of sexual assault.

As early as next year, Davonne Uecker and Becky Erdahl, two-Mitchell area nurses, will be certified sexual assault nurse examiners. Uecker is a nurse at Avera Queen of Peace Hospital and Erdahl is a nurse at County Health Nurse.

Sexual assault nurse examiners are trained on how to collect DNA evidence and counsel rape victims. The need for Mitchell to have sexual assault nurse examiners is to prevent victims from traveling long distances to be examined and to prevent the experience from being traumatic.

"We can help our victims right here instead of making them travel and go to a strange hospital and have to tell their story again and again," said Coleen Smith, shelter coordinator at the Mitchell Area Safehouse and member of Central Dakota's Sexual Assault Response Team.

Currently a victim of sexual assault younger than the age of 15 can not receive an examination in Mitchell. For children and juveniles, the closest medical facility that can administer a test is Child's Voice in Sioux Falls or the REACH program in Watertown. With the certification, Uecker and Erdahl will be able to examine all victims of sexaul assault in a Mitchell area hospital.

Sexual assault nurse examiners are taught the best practices to collect evidence for law enforcement to investigate. They are trained to take victims to a private corner in the emergency room to answer questions, swab for DNA evidence and document any injuries.

Incidents of rape or sexaul assault are prevelant in communities in South Dakota, including Mitchell. In 2016, Mitchell Police Division reported 21 forcible rape cases. As of October this year, 17 forcible rape cases were reported.

"I would not say that Mitchell has a lot of rape cases, but when we do have one you want to have everything available for the victim," said Mitchell Police Detective Dan Fechner.

According to Smith, the hope is with two area-nurses trained as sexual assault nurse examiners it will help victims feel more comfortable with the reporting and examining process.

Central Dakota's Sexual Assault Response Team has been trying to get funding for training for a Mitchell-area nurse since 2011. This October, Mitchell Area Safehouse launched a "30 Purple Ribbons for 30 Years" campaign as part of domestic violence awareness month. Local organizations displayed 30 purple ribbons outside their businesses and donated money to provide the two nurses with funds for the training. The campaign raised $1500 and will be enough to cover the training for both Uecker and Erdahl.

The sexaul assault nurse examiner training is a combination of 40 hours of online classes and one to two days of on-site practical training. The training is not held often, but Central Dakota's Sexual Assault Response Team is hopeful both Uecker and Erdahl will get certified by 2018.