Big Orange. Big Ideas. They’re fueling UT Knoxville on its journey to become a Top 25 research university. Here are two faculty members who are bringing big ideas to life in the classroom, through their research, and through community service.
Evans, an assistant professor in the College of Nursing, took a special interest in helping victims of domestic violence while working as a psychiatric nurse about fifteen years ago. Throughout her career she had seen the long-term effects of domestic violence on its victims, even years after they had experienced the trauma.
“I wanted to be on the front lines,” she said. “I wanted to be able to help people as they were experiencing their trauma. Victims of domestic violence experience extreme fear and lack of control over their lives. I get to help them regain some of that control.”
Evans is a sexual assault nurse examiner and an expert in forensic nursing, the newest specialty recognized by the America Association of Nurses.
Forensic nurses examine living patients who are the victims of assault. In cases of sexual assault, sexual assault nurse examiners conduct examinations and photograph and collect evidence from living victims. Forensic nurses also may be involved in death investigations.
Evans teaches nursing students, law enforcement personnel, and other health care professionals about domestic violence and sexual assault. She also cares for local victims as a nurse forensic examiner. Her expert attention, documentation, and court testimony have resulted in a number of rape convictions, including one federal child trafficking case.
She also works with Forensic Consultants of East TN, a small business dedicated to the advancement of forensic nursing and forensic nursing services in East Tennessee. She consults and trains in areas related to sexual assault, domestic violence, and death investigations.
Evans received the Chancellor’s Excellence in Academic Outreach award in 2010 because of her work in the community. In 2009, Evans and Assistant Professor Sally Helton, also in the College of Nursing, received the Community Coalition on Family Violence Anita Gregg Award for Service for their contributions to domestic violence education and their ongoing advocacy for victims.
Professor Evans incorporates many aspects of sexual assault nurse examiner training into the curricula for nursing students,” said Victoria Niederhauser, dean of the College of Nursing. “That results in our graduate nurses having a keen awareness of their role for caring for individuals and families who have been victims of sexual assault. On a national level, she is very involved in training new sexual assault nurse examiners across the country.”
Evans has a bachelor’s degree in nursing from East Tennessee State University and master’s degrees in nursing and child and family studies from UT.
An assistant professor of nursing and a certified sexual assault nurse examiner with a background in psychiatric nursing, Helton has been teaching for nearly thirty years. She focuses on forensic nursing, psychiatric mental health nursing, and intimate partner violence. She’s also trained others to become sexual assault nurse examiners.
“Violence is recognized around the world as a public health issue,” said Helton. “Throughout history, nurses have responded to public health issues, such as illnesses and epidemics, and led the charge in treatment.”
Helton continues to practice psychiatric nursing, but became interested in becoming a sexual assault nurse examiner after years of hearing from victims with similar stories. She estimates that around 50 percent of the domestic assault patients she saw told her that they’d been victimized before, but never told anyone.
“I felt if these patients could have a safe place to talk about what’s happened to them, maybe we could help prevent future incidents.”
Along with Evans, Helton works with Forensic Consultants of East TN to create training programs. The two created the Domestic Violence Learning Module for nursing students. To date, more than 1,200 students have completed the course, in which students attend circuit court, meet with judges, and accompany domestic violence advocacy workers. Students attend group therapy sessions with victims and perpetrators of abuse, and keep journals chronicling their thoughts, feelings, and reactions throughout the experience.
“Students also learn to screen patients for interpersonal violence to determine how dangerous the patient’s situation is,” Helton said. “Is the patient in danger at home? Is the patient likely to hurt themselves or others? This type of screening may help prevent future violence.”
Helton also has delivered training courses to more than 400 Knoxville-area emergency medical and law enforcement personnel on strangulation, injury, and living forensics, a portion of forensic science that focuses on meeting a victim’s physical and emotional needs while also preserving evidence and meeting other legal requirements.
“Forensic nursing involves a lot of teamwork,” said Helton. “Others may see the victims first. From the medical to law enforcement to counselors, it’s important for everyone to be on the same page as far as the victim’s needs, as well as how to bring about the best possible outcome following an incident of assault.”
Helton works with several local organizations known for assisting victims, including the Coalition Against Family Violence, the YWCA Victim Advocacy Program, and the Domestic Violence Fatality Review Board.
“Professor Helton exemplifies the ‘volunteer’ spirit by spending her time working in the community to raise awareness and provide a voice for victims of sexual assault,” said Neiderhauser. “Through this work, she has advocated changes in legislation to support sexual assault victims. At the College of Nursing, it is critical for our faculty to be recognized leaders in their field. Professor Helton’s depth of knowledge and first-hand experience in caring for victims of sexual assault, coupled with her passion to advocate for these victims, creates a optimal learning environment for nursing students.”
“Professor Helton has been recognized at the local, state, and national level for her service as a sexual assault nurse examiner, and her role as an educator in this area,” said Neiderhauser. “Her hard work and dedication in the areas of mental health advocacy and sexual abuse awareness elevate the quality of education students receive at UT’s College of Nursing.”
Helton received the Provost’s Excellence in Teaching Award in 2002. She holds a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Kentucky and a master’s degree in nursing from Texas Woman’s University, Dallas.