SARAH’s Place: A Safe Haven for Survivors

Serving both Benton and Linn counties, SARAH’s Place is a branch of Samaritan Health Services, located within Samaritan Albany General Hospital in Albany, OR. Open 24 hours a day and providing healing and recovery services to survivors of sexual assault, domestic abuse, and sex trafficking, SARAH’s Place is free and its services are available to survivors of all ages and gender identities. These involve documenting injuries, providing medical care, providing antiviral medication to fight HIV infection, providing medication to fight STD infection, counseling, and advocacy.

Patti Kenyon of SARAH’s place reports, “We do not allow lack of resources to get in the way…we are happy to see anybody and everybody.”

As you may or may not have guessed, SARAH is not the name of any single person. Rather, it is the name given to the faceless, anonymous, yet omnipresent reality of sexual assault survivors. Those looking for help can either drive themselves, be transported from a hospital, accept a ride from law enforcement, or travel with a legal advocate.

As a matter of record, law enforcement always notifies an advocate when someone reports having been sexually assaulted. Staff at the center, however, are mandated reporters only for assaults affecting individuals under the age of eighteen or over the age of sixty-five. However, if a patient does wish to press charges or pursue that route, they have the right to do so and SARAH’s Place will provide support.

Kenyon explains, “We work hard to make sure people know what their options are and what their rights are. We are medical, not law enforcement.”

SARAH’s Place itself is run by licensed regional sexual assault nurse examiners who can and will call in law enforcement if the patient wishes. They see some of the survivors that have gone to the ER, and will enter the situation once the survivors have been medically cleared. From there, the survivors can ask to speak with law enforcement officers or advocates from the Center Against Rape and Domestic Violence.

Kenyon says, “Medical people are used to being on call…that’s the nature of our business: to respond when there’s an emergency.”

No one who is not a medical professional is even permitted to enter the survivor’s examination room without their consent. This works to the benefit of the survivor, as it offers them the security of knowing they will not be coerced into reporting the assault if they wish not to. Moreover, they will be welcomed by staff who are trained and fully prepared to address the situation with wisdom, compassion, and a clear head.

Though staffing SARAH’s Place can be unpredictable, for Kenyon, it is a calling.

“I just know when the phone rings, there’s a person on the other line who’s [having] the worst day of their life.”

Though it is situated within a hospital, SARAH’s Place operates independently. Samaritan’s hospital board rerouted funds to create SARAH’s Place in response to the fact that hospitals are filled with noise, a lack of privacy, and oftentimes include a wait to get a bed. Though annoying for all patients, these elements can be traumatizing for already reeling survivors.

The Board of Nursing requires nurses to undergo specific training to attend to patients who are survivors of sexual assault or domestic violence. Doctors in ERs often lack in time and training, thus exacerbating survivors’ feelings of powerlessness following an assault. SARAH’s Place is designed with survivors’ needs in mind.

Kenyon adds, “We want people to know that this is an option available to everybody. Male, female, young, old – everybody.”

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By Ariadne Wolf