Nashville's very first stand-alone rape exam clinic, built exclusively for victims of sexual assault, is about to open to the public.

News4 got an exclusive tour before the June 5th ribbon-cutting ceremony.

"The first goal was to create a space that's not a hospital emergency room," said Rachel Freeman, president & CEO of the Sexual Assault Center in Nashville.

"We wanted to create a space that was comfortable, nurturing, safe, calming, something that created an atmosphere of love and support and compassion," Freeman added.

Collecting evidence is critical if a victim one day decides to press charges.

A forensic exam must be done within 96 hours of an assault.

"Once evidence is collected, a very specific chain of custody must be maintained to make sure it's admissible in court," said Freeman.

"We really strongly encourage people to get an exam because we don't want sexual assault to happen. In order to change and to stop perpetrators more, we have to collect evidence, and we have to take cases to court, we have to file police reports. Everybody's not ready for that. And we fully support and strongly encourage people to do that, in their own time, when they're ready."

Every detail of the S.A.F.E. (Sexual Assault Forensic Exam) Clinic was designed with the survivor in mind: a gated, well-lit parking lot with a private entrance; soothing colors and natural stone; clothing changes, in case a victim's clothes are kept as evidence; and beautifully tiled bathrooms with a shower.

"Survivors have the ability to come and feel refreshed and clean and rejuvenated after having the experienced the invasive trauma of an exam," Freeman said.

Even the exam room ceilings are treated with decorative screens in a leaf design, to help calm the survivor and provide a distraction.

"The leaves were chosen because you can look and count them, or drift off and pretend like you're outside," Freeman explained.

The clinic will be open 24/7 and staffed by specially-trained nurses from Nashville General Hospital.

There is never a charge for a rape exam.

"Our clinic is available to anybody who needs it. If you're traveling from out of town and you've been sexually assaulted, the clinic is available to you. No one deserves to be sexually assaulted, so hopefully that's a big step to the healing process for survivors."

The SAFE clinic is the culmination of a community-wide task force, including members of Nashville General hospital, the district attorney's office, law enforcement, and the Sexual Assault Center (SAC).

SAC raised $2.5 million in 9 months to pay for the clinic's construction and operating costs.

Until now Nashville General Hospital was the only place in Davidson County where the general public could get a rape exam. The hospital conducted 260 exams in 2017, up from just 200 in 2016.

Based on the results of similar clinic in Austin, Texas, the number of rape victims coming forward in Nashville is expected to double in the first year alone.

In June both Vanderbilt and Skyline will offer medical legal rape exams.

The task force is working to expand rape exams to hospitals across Middle Tennessee.



Tracy Kornet is an award-winning anchor, host and writer. She joined News4 in September 2014.

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