Kyra Laughlin helps launch medical advocacy services for sexual assault survivors

kyra laughlin

IAS alum, Kyra Laughlin (Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies and Society, Ethics & Human Behavior, 2018, Master of Arts in Policy Studies 2019), has successfully partnered with the community-based organization Rebuilding Hope to implement King County’s only in-person medical advocacy program for sexual assault victim-survivors.

Laughlin, who now works as the Violence Prevention Coordinator for Virginia Mason Franciscan Health (VMFH), first identified the need for this service when she made the transition to her new role with VMFH. After graduating in 2019, she worked with the Providence Intervention Center for Assault and Abuse as a hospital victim advocate where she responded to all five emergency departments in Snohomish County for cases involving sexual violence, child abuse, and vulnerable adult abuse. As an advocate she provided emotional support during forensic exams, advocated for patients’ self-identified needs, made referrals to support services, co-developed safety and self-care plans alongside patients, and assisted with systems navigation such as reporting to law enforcement.

In her first week with VMFH, she connected with various clinical staff at VMFH’s St. Francis hospital in Federal Way to learn what resources and services were being provided to individuals impacted by various forms of violence. It was during a conversation with a sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) that she learned that patients who had experienced sexual assault at King County facilities were being given a one-page handout with a single hotline number on it. Although SANEs would offer to connect their patients with an advocate over the phone, most patients would decline. This was in stark contrast to Laughlin’s experience as an in-person advocate where patients rarely declined services.

Meanwhile, less than 10 miles away, Rebuilding Hope, the community sexual assault program for Pierce County, has been providing in-person medical advocacy to victim-survivors for decades – similar to the services Laughlin provided in Snohomish County. Rebuilding Hope is able to provide services through state funding, however, these grants restrict sexual assault programs to provide services only within the counties they reside. During their first conversation, Rebuilding Hope’s advocacy manager shared with Laughlin that both SANEs and St. Francis staff had occasionally called to get advocacy services for their patients, but due to funding restrictions, they were not able to go out to the hospital because it’s located in King County. This prompted Laughlin to ask what additional funding or resources it would take for their advocates to respond to cases at St. Francis.

After a month of crunching numbers and reviewing staff capacity, the Rebuilding Hope team came back with an estimate – for just a few thousand dollars, they would be able to provide advocacy and case management services for an entire year. VMFH’s violence prevention team provided the first year of funding through their mini-grant program and alternative funding sources will be explored moving forward. Laughlin and Rebuilding Hope’s team collaborated on developing the advocate call-out procedure and educating hospital staff on these new services. Advocates began responding to St. Francis in December of 2021, and in less than 24 hours of the service launching, they responded to two sexual assault cases.

While Laughlin views this as a meaningful step forward in getting victim-survivors connected to the supports they deserve, she hopes other hospitals will explore creative solutions to get advocates through their doors and that in the next few years, every hospital in King County will have in-person medical advocacy available.