Quinnipiac alumna collaborated with the Kenyan government and local officials to help sexual assault victims find justice — and establish a consistent set of standards for investigation.
Nancy Cabelus, MSN ’02, lived in Kenya from 2008–10 as a diplomat of the U.S. government, providing sexual violence training to medical and legal personnel.
Her interest in forensic nursing began during her career as a Connecticut state trooper from 1986–2006, when she often dealt with victims of accidents, gang violence, sexual assault and domestic violence. She had earned an RN degree before joining the State Police and worked in nursing on her days off. Earning her master’s in forensic nursing at Quinnipiac was the next logical step, but not the last. She also received her doctor of nursing practice in forensic nursing in 2007 from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.
Cabelus found that rape cases in Kenya sometimes went unprosecuted, usually for a lack of evidence. “It was really hard for victims,” she said. While there, she helped train nurses to perform exams and properly use rape kits. She also helped to modernize evidence labs, where she observed that DNA samples often were left unsealed. She said she was fortunate to collaborate with a professional there who had a master’s in forensic science.
“We worked well together. Our program trained him in the operation of a new DNA analyzer, and the U.S. supplied test kits for it.” In addition, a microscope was purchased, and police officers were trained in the effective handling of evidence.
“There were a lot of moving parts, and I loved every day of it. We really made traction there.”
Cabelus also advocated for the right of nurses to testify in court in sexual violence cases. The previous law decreed that only doctors could do so, even though nurses normally collected evidence and performed exams. She explained that doctors felt they could not leave their many patients, so they did not go to court, and cases ended without justice being served.
“This change has led to real convictions”, she said.
For her work in Kenya and similar efforts in Colombia, Cabelus received the 2010 Virginia A. Lynch Pioneer Award in Forensic Nursing from the International Association of Forensic Nurses and recently, Quinnipiac’s School of Nursing honored her with the Transformational Nurse Leader Alumni Award.
Today she is a board-certified, advanced practice forensic nurse with a private practice in Glastonbury, Connecticut. “Among my clients are people going through custody battles or dealing with domestic violence issues. Some have rape trauma syndrome and they are afraid to get back into a relationship. It’s hard for them to talk about,” she noted.
“Quinnipiac’s program helped me combine my two professions, education and skill sets into a unique package that has made me a better teacher and clinician, and also a stronger leader,” she said.