- Associated Press - Monday, November 28, 2016

STEVENS POINT, Wis. (AP) - Jenny Blenker knew she wanted to help people, but she didn’t always know how she’d make it a career.

The 36-year-old Portage County native considered working as a police officer, but switched her degree to nursing out of concerns about job security and opportunities at home. Now Blenker plays a role that involves both emergency medicine and law enforcement.

Blenker helped start the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program at Ministry Saint Michael’s Hospital in 2006 and was one of the first two nurses to get training. Blenker is now a supervisor of patient care at the hospital, and she has six nurses on staff trained in treating victims.

Prior to the program’s start, when victims came to the hospital seeking an exam, Blenker said nurses would try their best to follow a hospital policy, but the care wasn’t the highest quality possible. After attending Department of Justice training, Blenker said she felt more confident about the help she was giving people who came to her in a time of need, following what might be the most traumatic experience of their lives.

“I could actually provide more of a comprehensive exam to the patient, because I knew what to look for,” she told the Stevens Point Journal (https://spjour.nl/2eYVTV9 ). “I felt like I just gave the victim a better chance at winning (her) case, if it would go to trial, that the victim wouldn’t have to do as much talking.

“The evidence would do the talking for them.”

Blenker’s decision to pursue nursing for its job security came at an opportune time for a long-term career: Wisconsin’s Department of Workforce Development considers nursing a hot job in the region, estimating the field will grow about 9.5 percent between 2014 and 2024, with about 1,860 new registered nursing jobs added each year. They work in a variety of settings, including schools, correctional facilities and, like Blenker, hospitals.

Blenker is a member of a team in Portage County that addresses sexual assault and aims to provide the best care to victims possible while also prosecuting offenders. Stevens Point Police Detective Tony Zblewski, who specializes in sensitive crimes such as child abuse and sexual assault, said forensic nurses like Blenker help eliminate reasonable doubt in criminal trials. Blenker collects DNA from the victim’s body and documents any injuries they have; Zblewski said those elements can help establish who the perpetrator is and make a case that they didn’t have consent.

“If the SANE nurse can isolate and identify those specific things, it helps the case tremendously,” he said.

DNA evidence means a trial will consist of more than the victim and suspect pointing fingers, Zblewski said, leaving a jury to instead question how the evidence was collected and handled. She uses the processes set out by the state and accepted by courts to remove any doubt about her methods.

But Blenker’s role as a member of the county’s Sexual Assault Response Team goes beyond prosecution, Zblewski said. Since 2014, his department has handled 51 sexual assault cases; sexual assault is widely believed to be an under-reported crime. Having someone outside the criminal justice system, whose primary focus is on the victim, helps give victims a better experience when they choose to report the violation of their body.

“They really soften the approach,” he said. “They focus on the physical part of it first, the physical trauma, getting that person stable and comfortable and making sure that their health and well-being is handled.”

Blenker said she takes a victim-first approach when she conducts her exams. If victims adamantly do not want an exam, she doesn’t conduct one. If they do not want photos, she does not take them. Blenker said she informs victims of their rights and focuses on their needs first.

“They’ve been violated, and so these exams are very personal,” she said. “Building that connection with them first is very important, because you’re doing a service that will help them in the end even though it’s not something anyone wants to have that done to them. But it also starts the healing process, because they can talk through what just happened to them to somebody who isn’t law enforcement.”

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Information from: Stevens Point Journal Media, https://www.stevenspointjournal.com

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