Of The Post and Courier staff
arrived at the emergency room
around midnight, painfully aware
of people staring at the stranger
wearing a badge beside her. A
blond nurse with a pixie haircut,
Janet Ward, came out to get her,
to photograph Blanche's bruises
and to swab for DNA. Ward took
notes as she asked Blanche for the
details about what happened and
asked her to change into a
naked beneath the thin fabric in
the tight, windowless room. Ward
pulled out a plastic speculum and
— knowing how daunting it must
look to a woman who's just been
raped — she gave Blanche the usual
speech: "Honey, don't worry. I'm
not going to meander."
case marked one of the first cases
in the Lowcountry handled by the
Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner
program. The internationally
shortened to SANE, restarted at
MUSC two years ago.
Using a blue light
and glasses, Janet Ward, a nurse
with the Sexual Assault Nurse
Examiners program at MUSC, can
see bodily fluids on a sexual
assault victim. She is specially
trained to collect physical
evidence from rape cases that
can lead to convictions in
court. Photo by
Grace Beahm of The Post and
Before that, in
what SANE nurses call "the dark
ages," one woman in North
Charleston conducted all exams for
the entire three-county area and
beyond for more than a decade.
SANE works to
take rape cases from the exam room
to the courtroom by training
nurses how to care specifically
for sexual assault patients.
Victim advocates and prosecutors
help along the way to preserve the
patient's dignity while also
preserving evidence against the
So far, two
cases have gone to court, and both
have ended in convictions and
about two hours in the cramped
room at MUSC, as Ward collected
evidence to send off in a
cardboard box to the State Law
Enforcement Division. At the end
of the exam, Ward gave Blanche a
round of antibiotics that made her
Then the nurse
gave her a hug and sent her home
The two women
didn't see each other again for a
year, until 34-year-old Michael
Christopher Andes' trial. There,
Ward testified about her exam, and
Blanche testified about what
happened some 20 hours earlier:
roommate, a man she knew for five
years and who outweighed her by
100 pounds, had forced his way
into her bedroom and pulled off
her pajama bottoms. Andes raped
her and then sat on the side of
her bed and urinated all over the
shared that room with her
then-9-year-old daughter, but the
girl stayed at her father's house
Blanche took a
hasty shower later that morning
and then threw her daughter a 10th
birthday party. Blanche had been
out of work for a year and finally
had the money to book a roller
skating rink for the afternoon.
"I had to do
that for her," she remembered
told her mother what happened and
called Goose Creek police.
County jury late last year
convicted Andes of first-degree
criminal sexual conduct. He had
been convicted previously of grand
larceny, two counts of
contributing to the delinquency of
a minor and several counts of
breaking into cars.
He is serving a
12-year prison sentence at Lieber
matter to me, at the end of the
day, if he went to jail,"
32-year-old Blanche said at her
Goose Creek home, months after the
trial. "Did I want him to? Yes.
What mattered was that they
listened to me. It's down on
record that he did what he did. He
had to listen to that. His family
had to listen to bits and pieces
of it. That's what mattered to
What matters to Scarlett Wilson,
the area's chief prosecutor, is
getting those cases to that point
— into the courtroom and on to
Rape cases are
tough to try. Victims don't want
to take the witness stand in a
public courtroom, where defense
attorneys will pepper them with
questions about every detail of
the attack and often dredge up
their past mistakes.
victims, Wilson reasoned, the
nurses and the hospitals represent
"the system" at large. If their
first experience with authorities
only extends the trauma, they
won't stick with the case.
"We had a
couple of victims with
particularly bad experiences who
were good examples of why it was
important," Wilson said.
She requested a
meeting with MUSC almost
immediately after becoming
solicitor in 2007 and championed
the SANE program until it
officially launched three years
Now, there's a
SANE nurse working at all times at
MUSC, with two nurses devoted to
the program full-time and another
eight trained nurses on-call.
They pack work
clothes and take separate cars to
family outings. They panic when
their cellphones lose reception.
Some of the newer nurses stress
about taking restroom breaks.
treat two or three patients in a
day, and sometimes a week goes by
without a single sexual assault
case. The nurses spend those slow
days catching up on supplies,
billing and the reams of paperwork
required for every exam — to
ensure both privacy and an
experience in the cramped exam
room less than two years ago now
seems like the dark ages. MUSC
recently dedicated a spacious room
in its Clinical Sciences Building,
with chairs, a privacy curtain and
calming moss-green walls,
specifically for SANE exams.
can refuse photographs, swabs or
any other part of the exam, said
Kathy Gill-Hopple, the MUSC's
forensic nursing coordinator.
"The point is
to give them control back, and
that starts right there,"
from the college student with
limited memory of the drunken
night before to the elderly woman
raped by the man who broke into
her house. Women whose husbands
forced them to have sex come in
reluctantly, and men attacked in
jail cells come in shackled.
Most often, the
patient knows the alleged
predator, said SANE nurse Nancy
Hall. The commonality stops there.
"Every time you
come in for an exam, you never
know what you're going to get,"
A patient can
seek an exam a full five days
after an alleged attack and can
wait as long as a year to file a
report with law enforcement. A
nurse gives the same weight to
each patient, from the woman
assaulted by a stranger in a
parking lot to the prostitute
whose customer held her captive.
"Our role is
just for that right then, for her
body and what she needs," Hall
said. "If she never tells another
soul the rest of her life, or if
it goes all the way to
prosecution, we are there to help
treatment of rape cases not only
means improved patient care but
better evidence to take to trial.
Getting rape kits completed early,
before DNA evidence deteriorates,
makes a good offense against a
good defense attorney.
The two cases that have gone to
trial since the program
relaunched: Blanche's case against
Andes, and a Colleton County case
that ended in a 25-year prison
A hand to
Blanche spent two days testifying
in the trial of her former
roommate. Sometimes she wonders
how she made it through those long
hours on the witness stand while
strangers listened to the details
of the attack.
how much harder that testimony,
and the entire year leading up to
it, would have been without the
support she found through
strangers with a group she'd never
heard of before that night at the
process not only pages a nurse
specifically trained to treat a
rape patient but an advocate with
People Against Rape. That
volunteer comes to hold the
patient's hand, to walk her back
to her car after the exam and to
guide her through the legal
process over the months or years
"I honestly do
not know how well I would be right
now if it was not for what they
gave me," Blanche said.
up at the hospital but then spend
the next month helping the patient
cope, before referring her to a
therapist, said People Against
Rape executive director Melonea
Marek. Then the advocates show up
at court hearings, ready to hold a
when, more than 10 years ago,
hospitals across the Lowcountry
trained SANE nurses and then,
because of funding, the programs
slowly, quietly faded away.
Wilson and the nurses, wants to
see SANE programs at all local
"If you break
your arm, you can walk into any
hospital and get service," Marek
said. "It would seem to me that if
you get raped, you could walk into
any hospital and get service.
There's no reason for that not to
happen in this town."
Especially since, at one time, a
patient could go nearly anywhere
in this town for a rape exam.
program began in a few states
nearly four decades ago, but those
nurses lacked any network until
the program became more widespread
in the '90s. That's when Faye
LeBoeuf joined the team of the
first certified nurses in the
Within a few
years, though, all her colleagues
gradually left the SANE program.
At some hospitals, funding dried
up; at others, nurses decided they
couldn't handle the stress of such
draining work at such
remembers praying that her pager
would stay silent on Christmas.
She remembers spending an entire
weekend in tears as she worked 10
children ranged from age 3 to age
12 when she started. Her youngest
was 17 when she stopped.
She missed swim meets, karate belt
"They knew Mom
and the beeper," LeBoeuf said.
"Plenty of times, I thought about
stopping. But I couldn't do it to
the women — or the men."
She stopped in
2010, when MUSC renewed its
commitment to SANE in earnest.
LeBoeuf still works as a certified
nurse midwife for mostly
low-income women at the MUSC's
Women's Health outpost tucked away
in a North Charleston strip mall.
She can't help
but resent the people who call
SANE a new program. "It started
here," she said in an interview at
Charleston, Berkeley and
Dorchester counties, as well as
people from as far away as
Georgia, made their way to
LeBoeuf, the only person for miles
who could perform a proper SANE
Staffed full time — by more than
one person — the SANE program
remains in its infancy.
hope for grant money to purchase a
$35,000 camera that will collect
stronger evidence in sexual
assault cases. They hope to add
more members to their own ranks
and at other hospitals in the
seek help anywhere but MUSC have
to explain what happened at least
one more time and then travel to
SANE nurses downtown. Delays
compromise evidence and also the
patient's willingness to stick
with the court process.
assault victim spends the rest of
her life recovering from the
attack, said Debbie Browning,
nursing director at MUSC's
"If it happened
at a gas station, she's going to
think about it every time she
drives past a gas station,"
For LeeAnn Blanche, her daughter's
birthday reminds her of the
attack. That's the part Blanche
resents the most.
social gatherings that involve
alcohol, remembering the stale
beer on Andes' breath the night he
Sometimes she looks in the mirror
and wonders how anyone can ever
find her pretty.
But she hates
the word "victim."
back to work, kept up with her
sexually transmitted disease
testing and met with counselors
and prosecutors regularly. She
told her daughter the truth,
because she wanted the girl to
hear it from her and not from
"I think when
you use the word 'victim,' you're
putting yourself into a category,"
Blanche said. "Yes, I am a victim
of what happened, but that's not
what I'm going to be the rest of
my life. I don't want to use that
as an excuse."
People ask her
what happens after Andes' 12-year
sentence ends. Blanche said she's
content just knowing that she has
12 years to figure that out.
note: The article ran in the June
18 issue of the Post and Courier
and is reprinted with permission.