In an effort to curb what is an epidemic in Alaska, an Alaska Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault-supported pilot program called the Alaska Comprehensive Forensic Training Academy is helping nurses get forensic training. In turn, it may also help more victims get justice.
"There are all kinds of victims out there in our communities," said Diane Casto of the Alaska Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, "and there's all kinds of violence."
More than 75 percent of Alaskans have experienced or know someone who has experienced domestic violence or sexual assault, according to ACDVSA. Even those numbers, though, are only the beginning: Only about 1 in 10 victims of sex assault actually report.
One big difference in the Anchorage-based training program is that while mannequins are often used for simulations, ACFTA has real people involved in the scenarios to help train student nurses in being taught collection of forensic evidence and trauma-informed victim interviewing.
Robb Lombard, a simulation technologist, was responsible for getting standardized patient performers prepared for their work with students. That included using makeup and skin prosthetics to create more realistic looks for actor patients.
Half a dozen people met with him to get set for the training at the University of Alaska Anchorage, where they would have an audience of nurse students watching their interactions with a nurse.
"In this case, she has been defending herself," Lombard said of his first subject, "and has a bunch of bruises, so we're moulageing - or applying makeup - to simulate bruises.
"This really gives our students a realistic point of view when they're looking at cases," he said.
Nurse and program student Jeff Matthews said having that human interaction as part of the training is much more realistic than the usual option.
"You have the empathic question and answer scenarios," he said. "Talking to a mannequin is a one-sided conversation."
Sara Rottman, also a registered nurse and student in the program, said she is grateful for the setup of the training, including having human interaction as part of the simulations.
"You get the emotional feeling that you would if you were working with a victim," she said.
Having real people involved in the training creates a more human approach to solving the rampant problem in Alaska and will hopefully lead to both improved identification and subsequent treatment of victims as well as better outcomes for justice, including increased convictions.
"The more we can focus on all these types of violence," Casto said, "the better we will be able to reach the change we are looking for."
More sessions of the program are already scheduled for this year and next. You can visit the Alaska Department of Public Safety website.
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