Courtney Underwood opened the first 24/7 Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner clinic in North Texas. Hoyoung Lee

Somebody Help

If You’ve Been Sexually Assaulted, There’s an Alternative to the ER

Courtney's SAFE Place in Plano offers help without the wait.

You’ve seen the memes: there’s the one about the COVID-19 baby boom producing “quaranteens,” and the other one with the guy in a yellow suit hiding behind a tree, licking his lips, that reads, “divorce lawyers waiting for people to be quarantined with their spouses for weeks.” They’re funny because they’re probably true. The unfunny part is that the same tensions that can lead to sex or divorce can also lead to violence.

But what do you do when you get sexually assaulted in the middle of a quarantine? If you have been badly injured and need medical treatment, you should call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. If you haven’t sustained significant injuries and you are concerned about being exposed to COVID-19 or excessive wait times at area hospitals, you can go to Courtney’s SAFE Place, which is located within The Turning Point rape crisis center in Plano.

Rape survivor Courtney Underwood founded the clinic in 2018. It was the first 24/7 Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) clinic in North Texas, and one of the few outside of a hospital setting. Survivors can talk to a certified victim advocate and have a specially trained nurse do a forensic exam. The clinic can also assist survivors with reporting assaults to law enforcement if they so choose, and finding temporary housing if the perpetrator has not been arrested and removed from the home. There is no fee for the services, and they are planning to stay fully operational during the current COVID-19 outbreak. In fact, they want you to come to them first.

“This past weekend was our first weekend to deal with the shutdown and everyone trying to come up with a plan to stay safe and germ-free,” says Stephanie Barnes, forensic nurse and SANE coordinator. “We called all of the partnering ERs that we did our dispatch to, and we asked them if at all possible to send the patients to our clinic because it wouldn’t be a large crowd.”

She’s already seen an increase in cases, and she doesn’t want anything stand in their way of getting help. “Just this weekend we had nine cases, which is kind of a lot,” Barnes says. “Some weekends we just see one or two. When people are stuck at home with each other, maybe that’s what’s causing it to happen.”

Her goal is to get more patients to bypass the ER and come to the clinic directly, thereby avoiding wait times and potential exposure to COVID-19. “We’re here,” she says. “You can always call our hotline. We have nurses on call 24/7. We just have to know that you’re on your way so that the advocate and the nurse can be dispatched. Here at the clinic, we offer all of the prophylactic medications and we can refer people out if they need further testing for STDs and things like that. So we can totally take care of them and they can avoid the hospital altogether.”

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