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  • Writer's pictureJulie Miskoviak

Helping victims of violence

Updated: Oct 9, 2023

Since the beginning of 2023, the Ascension Wisconsin Mobile Sexual Assault Treatment Center has seen 260 patients in Southeast Wisconsin.


The Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program is mobile and can be onsite soon after being contacted. Examinations can be performed in patients’ rooms for those already admitted, and in designated areas for those presenting at emergency rooms and clinics.


Recently, SANE was integral in aiding an 18-year-old female patient, a survivor of trafficking, to a safe house out of state. An Ascension Wisconsin unit called the team to evaluate the patient and assist her with safety planning. She was fearing for her life and the life she has led since age 14. She requested out of state assistance because of the proximity to where her trafficker was located. The SANE team assisted with getting her a flight and making certain she arrived at the airport and onto the plane. They also arranged for an anti-human trafficking group to meet her at the airport when she arrived.


Rachel Cortez, who serves as the SANE and Ascension Wisconsin Anti-Human Trafficking Coordinator, leads a team of 10 for the mobile forensic nurse program.


SANE started in the Emergency Department of Ascension All Saints Hospital in 1992. The Ascension Wisconsin Mobile Sexual Assault Treatment Center was established in 2018 to expand the reach of the program. On-call forensic nurses see an average of 400 patients per year where they present at 10 sites in Racine, Milwaukee, Waukesha and Ozaukee counties.

Knowing the direct correlation of domestic violence with human trafficking, SANE successfully expanded the scope of their services in January 2023 to all Ascension Wisconsin emergency departments in Southeast Wisconsin. The entire team was trained on how to identify, understand and treat survivors of domestic violence.


In addition to working with patients, Rachel is passionate about educating Ascension Wisconsin associates and providers regarding red flags, response and resource sharing around the topics of human trafficking, sexual assault and domestic violence/intimate partner violence of patients. She also builds community collaboration by conducting training with local law enforcement, emergency medical services and educators.


Along with providing the forensic exams, SANE nurses work with local partners to connect victims with advocates and placement in safe houses and shelters, as well as offering replacement clothing and backpacks with personal care items.


While victims go through a dark, confusing time as they navigate what happened, Ascension Wisconsin Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) provide comfort, hope and healing.


"It takes so much courage and so much strength for sexual assault patients to come to the emergency department," Rachel said. "They deserve to receive the best care possible while feeling listened to and heard."


This program is made possible through donor support to Ascension Wisconsin Foundation and grant funding which recently provided two new specialized forensic cameras to assist with evidence collection at our busiest sites.


For more information about SANE education and warning signs, please contact Rachel Cortez at 262-687-8970 or rachel.cortez@ascension.org.


You can also help by spreading the word and sharing this update during October, National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. If you are interested in supporting this program, please click here. Thank you for helping make this program possible.


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