April is National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month

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Source:  Nancy Jackson, AAFS Director of Development & Accreditation

In 1978, San Francisco and New York City held the first Take Back the Night events in the United States. Over time, sexual assault awareness activities grew to include the issues of sexual violence against men and men’s roles in ending sexual violence. National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month was first observed nationally in 2001; it continues to grow and educate the public regarding the prevention of sexual assault. Sexual assault awareness has been a focus of American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) members for many years prior to 2001. The April series will focus on the AAFS members active in and supportive of sexual assault awareness.

It is only fitting to begin the series by highlighting the many contributions of Virginia Lynch, MSN, RN, FCNS, FAAN, FAAFS, considered by many to be the mother of forensic nursing.


Virginia Lynch, MSN, RN, FCNS, FAAN, FAAFS,
Retired Fellow of the AAFS General Section.

Ms. Lynch began her career as an emergency nurse in 1982 and soon noticed how evidence, such as clothing, specimens, records, or personal items, were often lost, discarded, or returned to family members instead of being secured and conveyed to authorities. As a result, she realized that the perpetrators of crimes such as sexual assault would possibly never be caught or convicted. This was the beginning and the birth of a new nursing specialty—forensic nursing. Working with sexual violence victims led Ms. Lynch to initiate the first rape crisis program in Parker County, TX. As a graduate nursing student, she became a credentialed sexual assault nurse examiner in Fort Worth’s first training program. Nurses began performing rape exams, which mobilized a trend of involving nurses in forensic medicine.

Nurses were a perfect fit since they are educated in anatomy and physiology, chemistry and pathophysiology. They are attentive to detail and skilled in documentation and psychosocial intervention when working with survivors or grieving family members. Nurses are also trained in the identification of trauma, sterile techniques, and proper specimen handling—all skills that translate well in the role of the forensic nurse examiner. At approximately the same time, a medical examiner in Canada began to employ nurses as death scene investigators. He, too, believed that nurses were the best resource for medical death investigations.

Ms. Lynch initiated an independent study in death investigation and postmortem procedures at the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences and the Dallas County Medical Examiner’s Office. A short time later, she was appointed to the position of death scene investigator. She was the first graduate student of the forensic nursing program that she developed for the University of Texas at Arlington.

After becoming an AAFS member in 1986, she served AAFS and the forensic community on numerous committees, including serving as the AAFS International Liaison, bringing forensic nursing to more than 32 countries around the world. She was asked to define the discipline of forensic nursing that was officially adopted in 1991. In 1992, she attended the founding meeting of nurses involved in educating nurses in conducting sexual assault examinations. Today, that organization is known as the International Association of Forensic Nursing (IAFN), with Ms. Lynch being the organization’s founding president. Because of Ms. Lynch’s efforts, forensic nursing was recognized as a nursing specialty by the American Nursing Association (ANA) in 1995 and the first forensic nurses were certified as adult and/or pediatric sexual assault nurse examiners in 1996.

As the founding president of the IAFN, Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing, and Retired Fellow of the AAFS, Ms. Lynch is considered the pioneer in forensic nursing. She continues her work as an international consultant and is the author of numerous articles and books. The recipient of numerous awards for her work, the one perhaps closest to her heart was received from the Texas Senior High School for her service as a sexual assault nurse, among other recognitions.

Many groups are now knowledgeable regarding sexual assault and its problems due to individuals such as Virginia Lynch. Her work and the work of colleagues over the years have moved this subject from the darkness into the light by educating first responders, emergency room attendants, doctors, and the legal community on the importance of victim examination and evidence handling.