SHIPROCK — After two years of advocating and development, the Northern Navajo Medical Center dedicated its first sexual assault nurse examiner room today.

The service is being provided through a partnership between the hospital and Sexual Assault Services of Northwest New Mexico, and by funding from the Domestic Violence Prevention Initiative under the Indian Health Service.

Throughout today's dedication ceremony, organizers emphasized the need for providing the examination service, which focuses on medical and forensic evidence collection, on the reservation.

Prior to the room opening this month, sexual assault victims had to travel to Farmington for an exam by a sexual assault nurse examiner at the Sexual Assault Services of Northwest New Mexico office.

According to the nonprofit agency, which provides comprehensive services to sexual assault victims, there were 141 exams completed in 2016.

Of those exams, 125 cases were female victims, and 16 cases were male victims. The summary provided by the agency also showed 89 victims were Native American, 33 victims were Anglo, 10 victims were Hispanic and nine victims were from more than one racial identity.

Dixie Roberts, the agency's sexual assault nurse examiners coordinator, said victims still have the choice to receive services in Farmington, but offering the service here will benefit those who have transportation issues.

During a tour of the exam room, which is part of the hospital's labor and delivery department, Roberts explained the space is equipped to serve females and males ranging in age from infancy to elderly.

As part of the service, a sexual assault nurse examiner and an advocate are available 24 hours. and when an individual requests an exam, hospital personnel will contact the nurse and advocate, Roberts said.

The sexual assault kits used in the room are accepted by the various law enforcement agencies, and attention to detail, as well as accurate record keeping, are emphasized, she added.

"This (process) is 10 times more important, especially if the case if prosecuted. They need to know the amount of injuries sustained," Roberts said.

Dr. Jean Howe is an obstetrician-gynecologist at the hospital, as well as a consultant for the Navajo Area Indian Health Service.

In her remarks during the dedication ceremony, she said the perception of sexual assault has changed since she started working with IHS about 20 years ago, but the challenges remain.

"What this room represents to us is the hospital's commitment to reaching out to survivors of sexual violence and providing them with national standard of care services for these events," Howe said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.

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