Established 1885

The Washburn Review

Established 1885

The Washburn Review

Established 1885

The Washburn Review

Research says brains can structurally change due to trauma

Forensic nurse examiner gives presentation about the neurobiology of trauma
Sarah Evans-Simpson gave a presentation on her job as a forensic nurse examiner for Sexual Assault Awareness Month. She works at Stormont Vail Hospital, which is the only place in Topeka equipped to do sexual-assault exams on patients. (Jayme Thompson)

Forensic Nurse Supervisor Sarah Evans-Simpson gave a presentation about her job at Stormont Vail Hospital and the neurobiology of trauma April 17, 2024.

“April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. So, in support of that really important topic we have Sarah Evans-Simpson come here to speak with us,” said Molly Steffes-Herman, campus advocate and university counselor.

A forensic nurse examiner is also known as a sexual assault nurse examiner. Evans-Simpson’s job is to collect evidence and care for patients related to sexual assaults, domestic violence, child abuse and human trafficking.

“I function on what’s going to make my patient in the moment feel better,” Evans-Simpson said.

There aren’t many forensic nurses in the state of Kansas. To become one, a person needs to be a nurse first then do 40 hours of training for adults, and 40 hours of training for children. It is also an option to take 64 hours of combined training for adults and children.

To treat their patients, Stormont Vail partners with Young Women’s Christian Association: Center for Safety and Empowerment as well as Lifehouse Child Advocacy Center. These organizations provide someone to sit with the patient because of the traumatizing nature of what happened. The forensic nurses must remain unbiased when caring for their patients.

“As passionate as I am about these victims, I have to be unbiased. So, when they walk in the door I am the unbiased person,” Evans-Simpson said.

Sexual-assault cases are underreported because of the sensitivity of the topic. According to known statistics, an American is sexually assaulted every 68 seconds. (Jayme Thompson)

Evans-Simpson also shared the fact that every 68 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted.

Those are the numbers from the cases that are reported, the topic itself gets significantly underreported due to the sensitive nature of it. In Topeka, there was only one forensic nurse until 2020. Now Stormont Vail has a team of 12 to help treat these patients.

“Sometimes that physical trauma can turn into emotional trauma,” Evans-Simpson said.

When a person goes through trauma, the brain releases neurotransmitters called norepinephrine and epinephrine. This can impact the part of the brain responsible for memories, which is the hippocampus.

“Legitimately, when a traumatic event happens, it’s possible you won’t lay that memory down. You can try as hard as you want to, but sometimes you just can’t,” Evans-Simpson said.

Evans-Simpson went on to address how biological males don’t have a fully-formed frontal lobe until they are 25, and 21 for biological females.

“If you have a constant barrage of trauma before you’re 25 and 21, it’s going to change the actual structure of your brain because your brain is not fully formed,” Evans-Simpson said.

A typical sexual-assault kit takes about 45 minutes to complete. For overall patient care, the forensic nurse will spend 3-4 hours with the patient and then about two hours after doing paperwork. For children, it often takes about an hour to care for them and most of that time is spent playing.

Stormont Vail partners with Young Women’s Christian Association: Center for Safety and Empowerment and Lifehouse Child Advocacy Center. These organizations have provided people to sit with the patients during exams to help with the trauma. (Jayme Thompson)

“They come in and we play. ‘Bluey’ has been my best friend,” Evans-Simpson said. “They will do anything you want them to if they’ve got ‘Bluey’ on.”

All the procedures and healthcare are optional, and nothing is forced. Children and adults must consent to every part of the exam before the nurses continue.

Some students attended the presentation such as Chamiel Thompson, graduate psychology student.

“It’s related to my field, I’m kind of trauma-focused. Then it also relates to my employment at the YWCA. I’ve already done this training before – very similar but not from a nurse directly,” Thompson said.

Thompson found it interesting to learn some of the specifics of the job such as using different lighting techniques to see bruises that aren’t visible to the naked eye.

“I also love that she included that everybody could benefit from a therapist because I’m currently a student therapist. So obviously that relates to my passion,” Thompson said.

In Topeka, Stormont Vail is the only hospital equipped for this specific type of care. Patients should not worry about the cost of care, as any healthcare related to this topic will be paid for by insurance and county tax dollars.

Edited by Morgan Albrecht and Stuti Khadka

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About the Contributors
Jayme Thompson
Jayme Thompson, Editor
Hey everyone, I'm Jayme! I am a senior pursuing a double major of psychology and forensic investigations. Even though it's not tied to either of my majors, I joined Student Media because of my appreciation for journalism and the people in the field. I work as a content creator and copy editor. After graduating, I plan to pursue a graduate degree in forensic science and a job within that career field.
Aja Carter
Aja Carter, Editor-in-Chief Washburn Review
Hello, my name is Aja! I am a senior mass media major with a concentration in journalism and the Editor-in-Chief of the Washburn Review. I'm originally from Virginia, but I've lived in a couple of other states. I really enjoy writing, music, and spending time with my family. Outside of school and reporting for Student Media, I volunteer at my church, Light of the World Christian Center.
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