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Forensic nurses – they’re there for victims of crime

Trauma-informed nurses have ‘tremendous’ impact on criminal justice system, retired Crown prosecutor says
Sheila Early, retired registered nurse, left and Winston Sayson, retired crown prosecutor, were recently honoured by Fraser Health for their contributions to forensic nursing over the years. (Submitted photo: Fraser Health)

Although forensic nursing may be unfamiliar to many people, the value it adds to the criminal justice system is “tremendous,” says retired Crown prosecutor Winston Sayson, KC.

“The value of forensic nursing comes from their specialized and compassionate care to victims of crime,” he says.

Sayson was recently honoured by Fraser Health for his contribution to forensic nursing over the years, along with Sheila Early, a retired registered nurse who was the first RN to perform a sexual assault exam in B.C. in 1992.

Forensic nurses, formerly called sexual assault nurse examiners, are highly trained registered nurses who act as a bridge between the health-care and criminal-justice systems.

They are trained to collect evidence after a person is victimized by crime, as in cases of interpersonal violence. This includes, but is not limited to, physical and sexual assault and relational violence.

Trust in forensic nursing has only grown over the years, Sayson says.

At the start of his career as a prosecutor, when he would present evidence in court from a forensic nurse, the defence would regularly question the nurse’s expertise, as there was a common misconception that nurses were not not qualified to give expert evidence.

Since then, the court’s trust in forensic nursing has only grown, Sayson says. He recalls a case where the accused pleaded guilty on the day the trial was set to start, partly due to evidence a forensic nurse presented in the preliminary hearing. The evidence was directly from the chart the forensic nurse made when initially documenting the victim’s injuries.

Jennifer Ehirchiou is a nurse practitioner (NP) at Embrace Clinic located in Surrey at 9634 King George Blvd. The clinic is part of Fraser Health’s forensic nursing service. It is in Shirley Dean Pavilion, across from Surrey Memorial Hospital.

“It is a soft place to check in after the (hospital) visit, and make sure that patients are still feeling safe, supported,” Ehirchiou says.

Before the clinic opened in 2015, patients were often left on their own to follow up on their medical care with things like repeated screenings and tests. Embrace clinic helps fill in that gap and helps patients connect to the proper resources.

This is vital, Ehirchiou says, because after experiencing an assault, the patient might not be aware of potential concussion symptoms.

“Women experiencing multiple strikes to the head, and perhaps the strangulation incident, were never told that they actually may have a head injury as well,” Ehirchiou says.

The clinic also hosts a strangulation clinic, for people who have been strangled during an act of interpersonal violence. Injuries from strangulation cannot be seen, so medical checks are performed to check for things like neurological function.

Forensic nursing services through Fraser Health are available at Surrey Memorial and Abbotsford Regional Hospital. People looking to refer themselves can email or call 604-807-5406 to talk with a nurse.

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Anna Burns

About the Author: Anna Burns

I started with Black Press Media in the fall of 2022 as a multimedia journalist after finishing my practicum at the Surrey Now-Leader.
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