Hennepin Assault Response Team recognizes 45 years of helping sexual assault victims

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Sexual violence has a profound effect on a person’s physical and psychosocial health throughout their lifespan. According to the CDC, over 50% of women and a third of men experience sexual violence in their lifetime. In the immediate aftermath of sexual assault, a holistic response by medical professionals has the potential to have a positive impact on healing. It is during this incredibly vulnerable and traumatic time that the Hennepin Assault Response Team (HART) program steps in to create a safe space for patients. 

The HART program’s beginnings date back to 1977 when Linda Ledray – a forensic nurse (a nurse who provides care to victims of violence) – founded the Sexual Assault Resource Service (SARS) at Hennepin Healthcare, one of the first of its kind in the nation. SARS helped to address both the medical and legal needs of victim-survivors by addressing healing without compromising the evidence that could assist victim-survivors in seeking justice. Linda trained like-minded nurses and counselors to provide care. Beyond the hospital walls, she built relationships with stakeholders, including victim-survivors, advocacy agencies, law enforcement, and prosecution. These partnerships continue today.

In 2018, SARS changed its name to the “Hennepin Assault Response Team” to mark the expansion of its services, which are now available at 11 other hospitals in Hennepin and surrounding counties. In addition to serving adult and adolescent victim-survivors of sexual assault, HART also serves:

  • Children who experience sexual abuse
  • Adolescents and adults who have experienced physical violence at the hands of a current or former partner
  • Individuals who experience sexual exploitation and trafficking.

“As the supervisor and one of the forensic nurses who fell in love with the profession when I started in 2018, I am most proud of the strength of the patients we see every day and the hearts of the nurses and team members who work so diligently to serve them,” says Breanna Heisterkamp. “We are proud of the work we do. We do not often see the results of the care we provide, but knowing that we can be present with a patient – that we can create a safe space for them to process and start to heal from the trauma – is invaluable.”

True or false?

HART exams are always tied to law enforcement investigations.

  • False. Exams do not require that a patient report to law enforcement. HART’s focus is always to serve the medical, psychosocial, and safety needs of the patient first regardless of if law enforcement is involved.

HART can see patients from any unit of the hospital.

  • True. While many of our patients come through the Emergency Department (ED), we will see any patient from any unit.

Our country and state needs more Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs).

  • So true! Many rural and underserved populations, who do not have the luxury of a forensic nursing program, have ED staff conduct the intensive exam while taking care of other patients. Luckily, HART was awarded a grant in 2021 to support SANE training in the Midwest with the goal of removing barriers and providing free, robust training to nurses interested in forensic nursing. HART offers all the foundational and enhanced training needed to get started in this career.

About the author

Breanna HeisterkampBreanna Heistercamp graduated from nursing school in 2015 and joined Hennepin Healthcare as a staff nurse in Inpatient Medicine. She enjoyed her work immensely, growing her nursing skills and reaffirming what initially drew her to Hennepin – the people. While Breanna learned about specialized nurses who care for victim-survivors of sexual assault in nursing school, she knew little about how to access the profession. Her career as a forensic nurse started when she happened to be scrolling through job postings and saw an opening for a casual forensic nurse examiner.

As a forensic nurse, Breanna started working with patients who had been sexually assaulted and knew she wanted to spend her career working to prevent and respond to violence through healthcare. Breanna is now a HART supervisor and supports nurses and team members who work with victim-survivors. She is always evaluating and looking for improvements to care and services for patients in collaboration with community partners. If you have any questions about HART or forensic nursing, email Breanna Heisterkamp.

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