PLATTSBURGH — Nurses in the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner unit at times are called to testify in court.

The last time Gail Bjelko went to court, attorneys were fixated on her job's scope.

“A lot of times, there isn't any evidence to speak of,” she said.

“It doesn't mean it didn't happen. My job is to collect evidence. That's what I kept saying.”

She doesn't go to court often, thank goodness, and it's not the favorite part of the job even though she and the other SANEs document everything.

“When you're sitting in front of those two lawyers, you're wishing you took a lot more notes,” Bjelko said.

The community owes a debt of gratitude to the dedicated SANE nurses who provide vital services to victims of sexual violence according to Clinton County Assistant District Attorney Domenica Padula in a news release.

“The North Country is extremely fortunate to have these nurses who devote their time and expertise in providing the medical attention, documentation, and evidence collection that is so desperately needed by victims of sexual assault crimes. I’m especially grateful, as a prosecutor, because I know that not every hospital supports or offers these skilled services and I can’t imagine having to prosecute these cases without their assistance.”

In 2017, there were 66 reported sexual assaults in Clinton County, 34 in Essex County and 57 in Franklin County.

These stats only reflect the number assaults reported to law enforcement and not all of who the SANE nurses see.

“Our local SANE nurses have made the difference in countless cases in Clinton County,” Padula said.

“Their work has been instrumental in holding perpetrators of sexual violence accountable for their actions and ensuring justice for the survivors of those attacks.”

Closing cases and bringing closure to patients are two of the reasons why SANEs do what they do.

“I don't think really we are considered experts for purposes of court, but we're certainly the experts in what we do,” Bjelko said.

“There's some satisfaction in it if they guy ends up getting convicted. That's why I get up at three o'clock in the morning, to get those guys off the street.”

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Robin Caudell was born and raised on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. She holds a BS in Journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and a MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College. She has worked at the Press-Republican since 1990