Stevens Castaño: I don't know what it's like anywhere other than Tucson, but I know some hospital systems have their own sexual-assault nurse examiner teams. Here, we are independent contractor registered nurses, you just need to be a registered nurse and be specially trained through clinical training.
For survivors, there are advantages of having a sexual-assault nurse. Nursing schools don’t teach a lot about sexual-assault exams, and from what I hear medical schools do not teach very much either. If I wasn't trained as a sexual-assault nurse examiner, and I was just a regular registered nurse, I know that I would not feel comfortable, and I know that I would miss several things that are important to assess. Any medical personnel, even medical doctors, I don't think would do the work that we sexual-assault nurse examiners do. For example, oncology doctors or neurosurgeons get special training. You can't just have a doctor or physician's assistant, or nurse practitioner, go do surgical procedures on someone if they haven't been trained.
Green: How has your job changed as conversations about sexual assault, mental health, and human trafficking have become more common?
Stevens Castaño: My priorities have changed through the 16 years of my nursing career. Thankfully, as a result of becoming a sexual-violence examiner, when I am with a patient and they have certain complaints, I know I need to be a bit patient and listen to them. For example, if they were to come in with some type of physical-violence issue, I would not say, “Okay, I believe you were hit by a baseball,” or if there's some type of injury around their neck that looks like strangulation—these are things that could be a violent act.
In our jobs, time is always of the essence. But at times, I feel that I've made more time for my patients than perhaps others would, because I feel they need to tell their story to have some type of relief. I’m not treating someone's mental health, but there are different aspects that we need to watch out for more regarding sexual violence or human trafficking.
Green: It seems like a big part of your job is dealing with people who have had traumatic experiences. How do you deal with that emotional element of your job?
Stevens Castaño: I've done about 90 sexual-assault exams in my lifetime, but I always try not to express my feelings. At times, I have gotten a bit tearful, but I listen to them. I have not become traumatized. I really enjoy the sexual-assault nurse examiner role. I just really feel I am drawn to that type of patient population more than anything. It has made me more aware of how we need to be, perhaps, a bit more watchful of our surroundings. Being raped is never the survivor’s fault, no matter if you were walking out of a store late at night, or if you were dressed a certain way; the assailants did not take no for an answer, or they didn't even bother to question.
This interview is a part of a series about the lives and experiences of members of the American workforce, which includes conversations with a paramedic, a surgeon, and a therapist.