Credit: St. Joseph Healthcare

St. Joseph Healthcare’s Commit to Get Fit 5K/10K, scheduled for Sept. 29 in Bangor, will serve as a fundraiser for its SAFE nurse program.

SAFE stands for Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner and is the title given to nurses who have received specialized training and are state certified to provide care and support to patients who have experienced sexual assault, domestic violence or human trafficking.

There has been a significant increase in recent years in the number of patients going to St. Joseph Hospital in Bangor in need of a SAFE nurse. From 2017 to 2018, the number more than doubled, from 69 to 152. Preliminary figures for this year indicate that trend is continuing.

SAFE nurse team leader Michelle Markie said rates of sexual assault are not necessarily growing, but more people are coming forward to seek treatment and more referrals are being made in the community. St. Joseph Healthcare believes that means the SAFE program is effective.

Outreach efforts include spending time with at-risk groups in the community and local organizations, advising on how to respond appropriately to incidents of sexual assault and sharing resources for what support is available to victims.

The SAFE nurse team has delivered training sessions to education providers, first-responders and public housing officials. The nurses also are receiving an increasing number of requests for training from other organizations.

St. Joe’s has five certified SAFE nurses, and they utilize an on-call system, so that a SAFE nurse is always available to respond to new cases. Most patients are usually seen in the St. Joseph Hospital emergency department.

An initial examination can take anywhere from four to six hours. A patient’s injuries will be treated, and if requested, forensic evidence is collected.

Markie said one of the most important elements of care is that everything is guided by the patient.

“I am there to offer physical, emotional and spiritual support,” Markie said. “Collecting evidence, providing medical care and treatment for injuries, onsite advocacy services, safety planning and follow-up care — these are all part of my job. But the most important thing I can do for a patient is to lay out the options, and then give them time and space to make their own decision. It’s about empowering them to take that first step toward healing.”

St. Joe’s decided the proceeds of their first-ever Commit to Get Fit races would benefit the SAFE program because of the increased need for services in this area and because it helps one of the community’s most vulnerable populations. Funds will come from both participant registrations and sponsorship agreements.

For more information, visit

If you or someone you know needs resources or support related to sexual violence, contact the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault’s 24/7 hotline at 800-871-7741.