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Updated Information On Treatment of Nashville Rape Victims

November 1, 2007

In a previous post, I linked to an article in the Nashville Scene, “Rape Trauma,” which detailed the problem of Nashville rape victims all being shuttled off to one hospital (in a city with many) for forensic rape exams. The author, Jeff Woods, noted one exception – “Vanderbilt Medical Center also gives the exams, but only to the university’s students or faculty.” I was interested in finding out whether VUMC and other hospitals will begin offering the exams now that the state plans to pay for them, and was rather surprised by the response from John Howser, Assistant Director and Media Director for VUMC’s office, Medical Center News & Public Affairs. The first response was short and sweet – “The Scene article was inaccurate.” Asked for clarification, Mr. Howser provided the following details (emphasis added, reprinted with permission):

What happens in reality is that we (VUMC) have an agreement with the nurses who are trained and authorized by Metro Nashville to perform rape exams for court purposes to come to our Emergency Department to perform these exams on rape victims who are brought here for treatment. This is not just for Vanderbilt faculty, staff or students. But any rape victims brought here to be treated for injuries.


So the last sentence of the paragraph above is the potentially gray area. And I point this out to be fair to all parties. Metro Police Department’s protocol would have ALL rape victims who are not otherwise injured during the attack/ incident taken to Metro General for evidentiary examination.Typically only those rape victims who sustain other injuries during a sexual assault would be brought here for treatment versus Metro General.


We are not THE designated place for rape victims to undergo evidentiary examination. This is Metro General, as stated in the Scene’s article. However, it has been our policy not to further traumatize patients brought here for injuries sustained during a sexual assault by then having them transported to another facility (Metro General) just for the rape kit to be performed. We have worked out this arrangement with the designated Metro nurses so they will come here to perform these evidentiary exams when necessary.


The person wrote that article for the Scene without ever asking anyone at VUMC about what we do about rape victims.

To be fair, I sent the author of the original piece, Jeff Woods, a message indicating that I had been told that the mention of VUMC’s service was inaccurate and that nobody at the institution had been asked to verify the information. We spoke on the phone rather than via email at Woods’s suggestion, and after gruffly asking “Who are you?” and responding “Oh. You’re a blogger” (although I had given my site name and link in the email he responded to), Jeff pressed for details on the inaccuracy and indicated that he spoke with the Director of Vanderbilt’s Margaret Cuninggim Women’s Center for the piece. He stated that if the information from his article is not accurate, that is not what he was told by her.

The Women’s Center houses a library and hosts programs related to gender issues, but is not integrated into VUMC’s emergency services and organizationally appears to be more closely tied to the University than the Medical Center. The Center does great work, and may have made an honest mistake. Personal communications indicate that the information provided to the Scene was the Director’s understanding of the policy of the time, and she was seeking to update/confirm her knowledge, stating, “I certainly want the information that goes out to the public to be accurate, so thank you for following up on this.”

Ultimately, though, an academic-side contact would not be the first source on VUMC policy on an issue like this – they might be a source, but it seems like hospital confirmation would have been warranted. Also in fairness, however, VUMC elected not to ask the Scene to print a correction.

I was able to obtain a copy of VUMC’s emergency department policy on sexual assault, which indicates that patients will indeed be transferred to General except in the following circumstances:

  • Trauma patients who have been transported to Vanderbilt University Hospital (VUH) for care.
  • Patients who refuse transfer/referral to another institution.
  • Vanderbilt faculty, students, staff and their families.

The policy seems to support Howser’s statement that while General is the main center for exams following a sexual assault, patients who arrive at Vanderbilt may refuse transfer and be examined there, and this is not limited to Vanderbilt employees, students, and their families.

I haven’t independently confirmed that this has been VUMC’s policy all along, as the policy was last updated in April 2007, although that was prior to publication of the Scene article. The information I hope readers will take away from this is that Vanderbilt is indeed providing the forensic exams that aid in prosecution of rapists to the injured and victimized patients who arrive at their hospital. This is good news for Nashville women, who deserve to have accurate information about their options in a time of crisis.

I hope to track down information on whether other local hospitals will be providing the exams as well, and will present that as I find it.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. November 1, 2007 7:00 pm

    This is vital information, and I really appreciate the work you put into this post. Thanks for following up.

  2. November 2, 2007 8:16 am

    I second what Brittney says. I’m still confused, though, as to why the reporter from the Scene called the Women’s Center for information. Is he under the impression that rape only happens to women and therefore comes under the purvue of the women’s center? And, frankly, I’m disappointed that the women’s center didn’t direct him to call the hospital.

    If I had an issue with Baptist hospital, I would not call Two Rivers Baptist Church and expect a definative answer just because they share a name.

    Why didn’t the reporter actually make an effort to get a hold of someone directly responsible for knowing, implimenting, and following the policy?

    That seems like a huge oversight on the part of the Scene.

    It seems, not having need of it myself, but from the outside, that Vanderbilt’s policy is reasonable and one that other hospitals in town would do well to emulate.

  3. November 2, 2007 8:33 am

    Thanks, Brittney and B.
    B, I don’t have a good answer for you. Even if the women’s center initiated the contact (I don’t know), I would think someone in the hospital itself would be contacted for confirmation.

  4. November 2, 2007 9:41 am

    Good work Rachel and glad you were able to clarify matters at Vanderbilt. To answer your question … As I recollect, I did contact the hospital, and someone in the communications shop there referred me to the women’s center. The university has left the impression in various communications that the exams are only for students, faculty or staff. If they have a different policy, they don’t seem to be advertising it.

  5. November 2, 2007 10:04 am

    Thanks, Jeff. I also saw the ProjectSafe link you provide, but perhaps they haven’t altered it because that site is intended for a student/VU audience. I hope this clears it up somewhat.

  6. November 2, 2007 11:42 am

    You rock. Sorry I dropped the ball on my end. But YOU are incredible.

  7. November 2, 2007 2:58 pm

    Thanks, Slarti, and no problem.

  8. Donna Locke permalink
    November 2, 2007 3:08 pm

    I might have mentioned this before, but sometimes there is a designated hospital for rape victims because a rape crisis counseling center is stationed there, and the crisis counselors already have an all-on-one-page relationship with that hospital’s personnel, so that the counselors are called in quickly to help and comfort the victim, staying with the victim through the exam if the victim chooses, and, it is hoped, resulting in less trauma for the victim than there might be in a “colder” environment.

  9. Donna Locke permalink
    November 2, 2007 4:40 pm

    Rachel, you could call Metro General and ask them why they think they are/were the designated hospital.


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