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‘This is a safe place to learn:’ Robotic mannequin helps nurses learn to help sexual assault victims

MILWAUKEE -- The topic of sexual assault has been front and center the last few months -- and more women are coming forward to report it. A hospital in southeastern Wisconsin has a new training program which makes it easier for victims to get the help they need.

Froedtert Hospital and the Medical College of Wisconsin is giving nurses the education they need to help victims of sexual assault in a way that allows them to train with the "closest thing" to a real-life patient.

SANE nurse training

They are difficult questions to ask -- and difficult wounds to see. But with every mark and measure, a life may be saved.

Debbie Donovan

In her nearly 40 years of nursing, Debbie Donovan has seen a lot of sexual assault victims.

"They're looking for people to maybe judge them because that's kind of how our society is set up. It's what we have out in the media. We're looking for fault. 'I can't believe this happened. You must have done something,'" Donovan said.

Taking that so-called 'shame' away is part of the prescription.

SANE nurse training

SANE nurse training

"We try to empower them since the assault wasn't their choice. This gets to be a choice they have -- what they want moving forward," Donovan said.

It's the 'SANE' way, you might say. SANE stands for Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners.

"They respond when there's a victim and take over the care of that victim," Donovan said.

Nurses have always helped a wide variety of patients, but this relatively new program at Froedtert Health System gives them the training to help the most vulnerable patients -- including those like Lucy.

Lucy lives at Froedtert's simulation center -- and helps nurses like Jean Morzy get real-life training before it really counts.

Jean Morzy

"This is a safe place to learn, to try, so that when you go and actually interact with that patient for the first time, you have something to pull from," Morzy said.

Trying to treat a patient with Lucy's injuries and offer emotional support is a delicate balance.

"You'd really be missing something without being able to practice having the technical hands-on piece," Morzy said.

SANE nurse training

Lucy may be a mannequin, but she is amazingly life-like. She talks, breathes and even shows emotions that can change in the blink of an eye.

"If our first responders aren't sensitive and in some way give off that kind of impression, you can shut a victim down right at that point where they might not ever decide to come forward for services anymore," Donovan said.

"Survivors will sometimes sort of test the water, not in a conniving way, or manipulative way -- they're just trying to see if they're safe," said Janet, a victim of sexual assault who did not want to be identified.

"If you can't comfortably talk to the person because you're worried that they might not believe you, they're not familiar with the known nuances of these situations, it can be hard to disclose," Janet said.

Healing for Janet was tough. She was only 11 years old when she was first sexually assaulted. Janet said she did not receive much emotional support for her trauma at all.

"It kind of shifted over the next couple of months after the emotional effects of the trauma started setting in, with the nightmares," Janet said.

Now, Janet is an advocate for those who are sexually abused -- and said the nurses who received the SANE training know how to make the connection.

SANE nurse training

"You can talk to them about it and they don't miss a beat," Janet said.

That gives the power back to the person who needs it most.

"That's very comforting to survivors of those kinds of traumas," Janet said.