Providing holistic care and HIV prevention at Eloise House

Written by Piper Stege Nelson

For many survivors, the decision to come to SAFE’s Eloise House after a sexual assault does not mean they have decided to report the crime or file charges. Frequently the decision to visit with a nurse and advocate at Eloise House is about healing – both their hearts and their bodies.

When Connell was sexually assaulted by his co-worker, he was in shock. His emotions ranged from shame to rage to extreme fear. He arrived at SAFE’s Eloise House forensic clinic for a forensic exam after being bounced around to two different hospitals. When Julia, a SAFE forensic nurse, introduced herself to Connell, he said he was very concerned about HIV.

Sexually transmitted diseases, and particularly HIV, are great concerns for survivors of sexual assault since they can be spread through blood, semen, and vaginal fluids. HIV causes an infection in the body, the most advanced stage of which is AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). It turns out that the odds of contracting HIV post-assault are very low; for vaginal penetration without a condom, the rate is less than 2%.

At Eloise House, the forensic nurses assess survivors for HIV risk during the medical exam, and, if the nurse believes there may be risk for HIV, they will call for a consult. One option for those at risk of having contracted HIV is PEP, or Post-Exposure Prophylaxis, which is not a treatment but decreases the risk of contracting HIV. PEP must be started within 72 hours of the sexual assault, just 1-2 pills a day for a month, and is completely free at The KIND Clinic, AIDS Services of Austin, or Seton’s outpatient pharmacy. While the downside of PEP is that there are side effects during the 28-30 day regimen, including nausea and diarrhea, the upside is that PEP vastly decreases the risk of contracting HIV.

Being presented with options for how to take care of their bodies can be a huge sense of relief for survivors of sexual assault.

After talking with Connell, Julia discussed HIV post exposure prophylaxis and told him about his options. Due to the 72-hour window to start HIV PEP and the patient’s priority of starting the medication as soon as possible, Julia contacted KIND Clinic. The nurse practitioner at the KIND Clinic was incredibly helpful and able to get the patient in right away. Julia waited for Connell to go to the KIND Clinic and get medication.

Upon returning to Eloise House to complete the forensic exam, Connell felt much more at ease. He said the staff at the KIND Clinic got him in right away and were so friendly and helpful. Connell and Julia completed the exam at Eloise House and he left feeling more in control and supported.

Connell was able to get all the medical and emotional care he needed after a sexual assault, which in turn allowed him to begin the process of healing.