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Portrait of Laura Smith
May 27, 2020

Introducing a Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Care Centre nurse

Laura Smith has always been interested in women’s health and supporting those who are feeling vulnerable. She has worked at Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) as a nurse for over 30 years.

Laura is a nurse facilitator and program coordinator in the Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Care Centre (SADVCC), an emergency service for those who have experienced sexual assault or intimate partner violence (also known as domestic violence).

“Truly, I enjoy the satisfaction of helping others,” she says.

A dedicated team

Smith joined the Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Care Centre 18 years ago under her role model Diana Tikasz.

“I wish I could list all of the things she has taught me,” she says. “The invaluable gift of just listening. The need to care for yourself so you can care for others.”

A team of dedicated nurses is available 24/7 to respond to patients in the emergency department. They offer emotional support, physical assessment, medical interventions such as emergency contraception and prevention of STIs (including HIV) and for those who choose, forensic evidence collection to proceed with the legal system.

For patients who are experiencing intimate partner violence, the team records a history of the abuse they have endured, take forensic photography of their injuries, and most importantly, discuss safety planning for when they leave the hospital. There is a team of specially trained social workers who provide trauma-focused counselling in the follow up clinic, while Smith provides medical follow-up.

“I am most proud of being part of a team who provide exceptional care and support to the patients who access our program.”

Day to day

Smith wears several different hats. She is one of the on-call nurses who responds to patients in the emergency departments. She also provides follow-up care by phone to patients who consent to checking-in. During these phone calls, she offers medical or counselling services by appointment.

Every day is different.

“My day often includes direct patient care, collaborating with community partners, providing ongoing support and mentoring for nurses on the on-call team, and collecting statistics for both the hospital and the provincial network,” she says. “Educating folks and debunking the prevalent societal myths of both sexual assault and domestic violence is also a large part of my daily work. “

Smith coordinates with hospital, police, and community partners to ensure ongoing and seamless care and education. She is also involved in different committees, including the Woman Abuse Working Group and the Domestic Violence Review Court Committee and the Ontario Network of Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Care Centres.

Caring during COVID-19

The message to “stay home and stay safe” may protect people from COVID-19 but it doesn’t mean everyone is safe at home.

“Increased stressors like job loss, anxiety about the future, staying at home, to name a few, can lead to an increase in stress and violence and challenges to reaching out for help,” says Smith. “Our counselling services continue to be busy but have had to change from face to face appointments to phone visits.”

For friends or family of people who have been assaulted, the simple act of listening can be invaluable.

“Don’t make assumptions but instead, ask how you can help,” Smith advises. “When a woman leaves a violent relationship she is at a higher risk for increased violence or even death. Let her maintain the control of her decisions.”

The SADVCC team recognizes there are lot of barriers to coming to the hospital. They want you to know they are here to support you and give you options.

“We never judge or place blame for what has happened,” she says.

“You are not alone. We are here to help.”

If you have experienced sexual assault or domestic violence and require medical care, visit the following locations and ask for the sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE):

For adults 18+

Hamilton General Hospital emergency department
Juravinski Hospital & Cancer Centre emergency department

For children and youth 17 and under:

McMaster Children’s Hospital emergency department

Please note: We do not report assault cases to police. If you wish to file a police report for sexual assault or domestic violence, we can provide support to you if requested.