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St. Luke’s partners in SAFE program to care for survivors of sexual assault and intimate partner violence

The Ada County Victim Services Center (formerly Faces of Hope) in downtown Boise includes St. Luke's nurses on its banner.
By Jamie Hudson, News and Community
April 30, 2024

In Idaho’s largest county, patients impacted by sexual assault and intimate partner violence have a dedicated team of highly trained nurses in their corner.

For more than 20 years, St. Luke’s and Saint Alphonsus have collaborated to create and support the Ada County Community Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner, or SAFE, team and make it available to the community. A nurse who performs this specialized care is called a sexual assault nurse examiner.

Since joining the team in 2020, Maddy Helfrich, a St Luke’s registered nurse and member of the SAFE unit, has cared for many survivors. She strives to bring awareness to the multitude of contributing factors that perpetuate intimate partner violence and sexual assault. Helfrich also urges others to consider the depth of the problem and be part of the solution.

“I have a daughter, nieces, a nephew. This is not the community I want for them,” Helfrich said. “I don’t think any of us want that for our babies.”

April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.

According to U.S. data, more than one-third of women and a quarter of men experience rape or physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner. Such abuse and violence may be even more prevalent among nonbinary and transgender survivors, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Each day in Idaho, hundreds of survivors of intimate partner violence and their children seek safety in community services and programs, according to the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence.  

Helfrich works alongside 12 other nurses on the SAFE team. The dedicated nurses rotate day and night on-call shifts in addition to their full- or part-time jobs. The team strives to provide 24/7 coverage, performing acute medical forensic exams for adults and adolescents, regardless of date or time.

Nurses respond to the Ada County Victim Services Center in Boise, St. Luke’s Boise and Meridian Medical Centers and Saint Alphonsus in Boise. They provide one-on-one care when patients are evaluated and treated at these locations. Interviews and exams take place in private rooms with limited interruptions to ensure safety and comfort.

“Sometimes we tend to avoid heartbreaking and sensitive truths because it can put us in the uncomfortable position of acknowledging the deeply rooted, destructive beliefs surrounding sexual assault and intimate partner violence,” Helfrich said. “By acknowledging these hard truths … we can help diminish a culture of violence and abuse.”

Helfrich said she is humbled to provide specialized care to those in our community facing such situations. She believes being a small part of their healing journey is a privilege. Research shows that a trauma-informed, patient-centered approach to caring for survivors affords the patient an opportunity to be heard and can facilitate the journey to healing.

“We are obligated to be part of the solution, not part of the silence, shaming, blaming and ignorance that perpetuates violence,” Helfrich said. “The community I desire … is one of safety. I desire that for myself, those I love and all people.” 

Helfrich believes that people in every community deserve to feel safe. Everyone can be part of the solution by understanding that rape is not about sex, but about power and control, Helfrich says.

By listening, educating themselves and choosing to acknowledge the gravity of sexual assault and intimate partner violence, the community is supporting survivors and a culture of change. While every person may not have experienced sexual assault or intimate partner violence, every person most likely knows someone who has.

“When we can transparently, vulnerably and empathetically see that this affects everyone,” she said, “then we can change the narrative.”

Community partner resources  

About The Author

Jamie Hudson is an intern in the Communications and Marketing department at St. Luke's.