For nearly 30 years, the Bon Secours Violence Response Team (VRT) – newly renamed to encompass expanded advocacy services – has been a critical resource for adults and children impacted by violence, not only in Richmond, but in more than 40 locations across the Commonwealth. Since it was founded in 1993, the team, formerly known as the Forensic Nursing Program, has expanded services to meet patients’ needs. In addition to its forensic nurses, the VRT now includes a group of dedicated hospital-based victim advocates that provide wrap-around care from the bedside all the way through their transition home. 

The Bon Secours Violence Response Team is made up of specially trained forensic nurses and victim advocates that are available 24/7 at all Bon Secours Richmond hospitals and freestanding emergency departments. When responding to a call, a forensic nurse and victim advocate respond in tandem to victims of violence. The work of these two roles is complementary: together, they offer comprehensive care to victims including specialized medical attention, evidence collection, emotional support, advocacy support, hospital accompaniment, follow-up phone calls and referrals for community resources.

“We are proud to offer compassionate, specialized care to victims impacted by violence, not only when they are in crisis but also after they leave our hospital. This wrap-around care model is critical to improving the success of these victims’ healing journeys,” said Bonnie Price, DNP, administrative director for community health advocacy for Bon Secours Richmond. “The Bon Secours Violence Response Team is just one of many resources that are able to make an impact on victims of violence in our community, and we couldn’t do any of it without the support of our ministry, donors and many community partners.”

The Bon Secours VRT remains one of the busiest forensic programs in the country, responding to an average of 3,000 calls for service annually. The team serves victims of all ages who have experienced violence or abuse of any kind, including: domestic violence, intimate partner violence, sexual assault, physical assault, strangulation, adult and pediatric abuse/neglect, substance-exposed infants, human trafficking and workplace violence. The team is needed now more than ever; in the last year, volume has increased by 25 percent.

In 2021, the Bon Secours VRT moved into a new suite on the campus of Bon Secours St. Mary’s Hospital. The 3,800-square-foot suite, which underwent a $650,000 renovation specifically to meet the needs of the team, was fully funded by philanthropic support through generosity of local donors and the Bon Secours Richmond Foundation. The new suite is more than triple the size of the previous space utilized by the team and now contains two waiting rooms, two exam rooms, an area designed for children, a resiliency room where staff can recharge and a training room, as well as office space and meeting areas that can be utilized for meetings with community partners or family members.

Here’s a closer look at the role of forensic nurses and the role of victim advocates within the Bon Secours Violence Response Team: 

Forensic nurses on the Bon Secours Violence Response Team

  • Perform an evaluation of the victim and gather any pertinent information about the assault.
  • Ensure that any findings are properly photographed, measured and documented.
  • Complete a physical evidence recovery kit (PERK), which is vital in gathering any potential evidence from a sexual assault to hold the offender accountable. Patients can have a PERK completed without involving law enforcement if they wish.
  • Complete an examination and capture imaging of injuries caused by strangulation that cannot be seen with the naked eye.
  • Testify in court as an expert opinion during the judicial process. Our presence in court is critical in holding perpetrators accountable and presents an opportunity for forensic nurses to serve patients long after discharge.

Victim advocates on the Bon Secours Violence Response Team

  • Provide an immediate response to victims of violence while they are in our care, at the bedside.
  • Gain the victim’s trust and provide education about traumatic effects of violence while the victim is in our care and more likely to be receptive to intervention.
  • Coordinate with medical staff and the victim to arrange follow-up strangulation and sexual assault exams at a time when the advocate can be present to offer guidance.
  • Provide referrals to community agencies and resources for needs such as trauma-informed, victim-centered counseling, mental health services, housing, food, transportation, childcare and sometimes legal resources, when necessary.

“I have witnessed this team’s dedication to caring for the most vulnerable population – the victims of sexual assault, child abuse and domestic violence,” said Detective Laura Kay with the Chesterfield Police Department. “This includes having a forensic nurse on staff 24 hours a day. The victims of these heinous crimes deserve to be seen by a medical expert whenever they feel safe and ready to ask for help, and we are grateful Bon Secours is able to answer their call.”

As the Violence Response Team strives to consistently improve access to this quality, specialized care for the community, it does so in fulfillment of Bon Secours’ Mission to improve the health and well-being of the communities we serve including the poor, dying and underserved. In 2021, Bon Secours invested $1.6 million in the VRT which provided resources such as staff, equipment and supplies. This year, there are nearly 25 full time employees, which is more than double the number of full-time employees in 2019.

The Bon Secours Violence Response Team can be reached 24/7 through our Bon Secours hospitals or freestanding emergency departments, or by calling 804-281-8184 or 804-281-8574 during normal business hours.