BUFFALO, N.Y. – Erie County Medical Center treats between 115 and 125 sexual assault victims annually, and more than 150 people report sexual assaults in Erie and Niagara counties every year.
Medical professionals believe the number of sexual assaults that occur are much higher because it’s statistically one of the most underreported crimes.
Those who do come forward will face an intimate medical exam, and Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) will have to take and keep victims’ belongings.
"As part of the evidence collection, we take our patients' -the victims of sexual assault's- clothing,” said SANE program coordinator Karen Beckman-Pilcher.
So what’s a victim supposed to leave wearing when they’re discharged? It’s probably something you’ve never thought about if you haven’t had to be in that situation.
Beckman-Pilcher’s team of SANE nurses at ECMC have, at times, dug into their own pockets to make sure victims can feel clean and wear new clothes when they're released from the hospital. But those resources aren't always there.
"They've already been through the trauma. Then we take their belongings. There's no chance of getting them back,” said SANE nurse Mary Molly Shea.
That means a person who has already been through so much could be discharged in a hospital gown.
Sometimes Crisis Services has clothes they can share with ECMC, but not always, and not every victim has family or friends who can help.
"There are patients that don't have anyone to call. They may not be able to return to that home,” Shea said.
But now, through a meaningful collaboration between ECMC, Crisis Services, the It Happened to Alexa Foundation, and many generous donors, these nurses will soon have “Comfort Care Kits” to give to every victim, every time.
"Our tie to this project especially is that after [Alexa’s] trauma, she was in Boston, her family was here in Buffalo. She was released from the hospital in a hospital gown,” said Dr. Kate Fowler, executive director of It Happened to Alexa.
It's been the foundation's mission to assist victims ever since, so it's organized a collection of things like toiletry items and new sweatshirts and shirts to make these comfort care kits.
Every rape victim, from now on, will be able to shower at the hospital and change into clean clothes.
"We take care of the patient in its entirety, its totality, and so the gift that we have of being a nurse, and then the education from being a forensic nurse, it really just helps the patient,” Beckman Pilcher said.
"It makes a huge difference immediately. It's something that the nurse can do to say, 'We care about you,’” Shea said.
You can drop off new clothes such as shirts, sweats, socks, and comfortable footwear like flip flops or slip-on shoes as well as new toiletry items from now through Friday, April 27. The drop-off locations are listed here. If you’re interested in helping put together the kits, or you’d like to bring a donation to the day-of event, “kit creation” will be held from 1 p.m. till 5p.m. at Northpointe Church in Depew.
It Happened to Alexa expresses its sincere gratitude to all the BAC for Women clubs for embracing this ideas and helping collect so many items.