A sexual assault nurse examiner opens a rape kit at the Solace Center in Raleigh. File photo by Alicia Carter / Carolina Public Press

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President Joe Biden signed a law Tuesday that includes $30 million in grant money per year through 2028 to, in part, train and retain Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners nationwide.

Inside the $1.5 trillion omnibus spending bill was the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which includes the funding for SANE nurses as well as money for rape crisis centers.

U.S. Rep. Deborah Ross, D-Raleigh, said she is “tremendously grateful” the legislation has moved so quickly. 

The legislation pays to train more nurses in SANE methods throughout the country. The grants could be used to pay nurse salaries, establish training programs throughout the country and pay for assistance related to DNA sample collection and analysis. The legislation also includes funding for SANE nurses who specialize in child victims of sexual abuse.

“Children cannot advocate for themselves,” Ross said Tuesday. “They need to have trusted professionals that they interact with who can give them the care they need.” 

Last month, Ross announced the measure would be tucked into the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization bill.

Ross cited Carolina Public Press’ coverage of SANE nurses last year as her inspiration for a measure within the act that allows grant recipients to create a database of where SANE nurses work.

“Had you not done that reporting, we would not have become as aware of the problem,” Ross said Tuesday. “Your reporting inspired us to do this work.”

The two-part series exposed a lack of SANE nurses, largely in rural areas of the state, and showed how victims of sexual assault often must travel to hospitals hours away from their community to find a nurse who is trained to help victims.

While popular TV shows often show SANE nurses collecting evidence and presenting the information to juries, nurses do far more than that.

SANE nurses can be a comforting presence after a traumatic experience. They provide medicine to prevent sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy. They look for other injuries the victim may have sustained that had been overlooked.

Monika Johnson-Hostler, executive director for the N.C. Coalition Against Sexual Assault, lauded the passage of the legislation.

“This funding would address some of the infrastructure gaps such as SANE training, salary and other costs with implementing SANE programs statewide,” Johnson-Hostler said.

Kate Martin

Kate Martin is lead investigative reporter for Carolina Public Press. Email her at kmartin@carolinapublicpress.org.