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The special role local SANE nurses play in preserving evidence in rape cases

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FARGO — Medical and legal teams in our region come together to help victims of rape.

Immediately following the kidnapping in Fergus Falls earlier this week, authorities directly brought the victim to Fargo. What happened after that could play a vital role in convicting the man now charged. The process starts with specially trained Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners, or SANE.

Sanford registered nurse Casey Zimmerman says she felt compelled as a nurse to help those who have been through something as traumatic as sexual assault.

"Trauma can appear in all forms, mental, physical, or sexual," said Casey Zimmerman, a registered nurse.

And so she and a handful of other nurses at Sanford and Essentia are trained SANE nurses.

And while Sanford cannot comment on the Fergus Falls kidnapping case, the process of collecting evidence as part of a rape kit and examination is vital to securing a possible conviction.

"Every protocol we have established is the same from case to case, so every time we go to court, nothing changes, my evidence collection does not change, my process does not change so that guarantees better evidence collection along the way so there's no room for error," Zimmerman said.

Clothes, a shower, shoes all provided to the victim following an exam, since so many items are taken and bagged as evidence for lab testing.

Detailed, time-consuming work that may mean a conviction for the guilty, and healing for the victim.

"So that we have the proper collection of DNA, so that it is properly dried, and properly packaged to its guaranteeing better results for the victims," Zimmerman said.

And every two months, a special team meets here in Fargo-Moorhead, called the Sexual Assault Response Team. The team is made up of county attorneys, police, nurses and college reps. The goal of the meeting is to review ongoing cases and better meet the needs of the rape victims.

In the exam room with the SANE nurse, is an advocate from the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center in Fargo. They worked with 100 individuals last year alone.

The trained SANE Nurses and the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center advocate respond within 20 minutes, 24-7.

"It takes someone who is going to offer the patient the best care, and assure them they did the right thing by coming forward," said Zimmerman.

Kevin Wallevand

Kevin Wallevand has been a Reporter at WDAY-TV since 1983. He is a native of Vining, Minnesota in Otter Tail County. His series and documentary work have brought him to Africa, Vietnam, Haiti, Kosovo, South America, Mongolia and the Middle East. He is an Emmy and Edward R. Murrow award recipient.

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