The International Association of Forensic Nurses (2018) affirms the importance of evidence-based, trauma-informed, patient-centered forensic nursing services that engage patients as autonomous decision makers. Past research indicates that forensic nurses consistently respect patients' choices and control as they navigate the decisions of medical forensic examinations (MFEs) and sexual assault kit (SAK) collection. Building on that work, this study examined which options patients decline and what factors are associated with those declination decisions.
We collected prospective data from seven state-funded sexual assault nurse examiner programs. Forensic nurses recorded information about all adult sexual assault patients (N = 783) regarding four primary decisions: whether to have a MFE, whether to consent to all parts of the MFE or to decline specific services, whether to have a SAK collected, and whether to release the SAK to law enforcement for forensic DNA testing.
Most patients consented to a MFE (95%), to all parts of the MFE (81%), to SAK collection (99%), and to release the SAK for forensic DNA testing (80%). Younger patients and those with disabilities were more likely to decline some options. Patients who had not disclosed the assault to others before seeking sexual assault nurse examiner care were also more likely to decline a MFE. Whether patients sought post assault care for more health-focused reasons or legally focused reasons was associated with declination decisions.
Healthcare providers should communicate clearly about each step in post assault care and allow patients to decline services as they choose.