Nursing students attend sessions on forensic science and the role of DNA in sexual assaults


School of Nursing students learned about forensic science last week so they can gain a better understanding of the role Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs) play in providing the best DNA evidence in sexual assault cases.

In a two-day program, Dr. Terry W. Fenger, director of the Forensic Science Graduate Program, taught the nursing students from Dr. Nancy Elkins’ class about the process of DNA testing on sexual assault kits and providing detailed documentation related to sexual assault investigations.

It is the first time these types of classroom sessions and tours about forensic science have been offered to Marshall’s nursing students.

The future nursing professionals are learning about the role of SANEs who are often some of the first responders for a victim of sexual assault. Registered nurses become SANEs by receiving specialized training in the complete assessment, evaluation and treatment of the adult or pediatric sexual assault survivors. They are trained on how to recognize, collect and preserve evidence, which may yield the DNA of the individual who committed the assault.

“The sessions offer an opportunity for Marshall’s nursing students to become informed about sexual assaults and the process of testing sexual assault kits,” Fenger said. “We hope it will encourage them to consider the additional training to become SANE nurses after graduation when they enter the workforce.”

The nursing students received a tour of the Marshall Forensic Science Center’s nationally accredited forensic DNA laboratories and its digital forensic investigative laboratory that works in collaboration with West Virginia State Police investigators.  The forensic DNA laboratories have conducted DNA testing on over 2,000 sexual assault kits from jurisdictions in large metropolitan areas.  The West Virginia State Police Digital Forensic Unit operates an Internet Crimes Against Children Unit and conducts investigations that involve digital devices (smartphones) as evidence.