They passed a stack of papers around the table, each pausing for just a moment to press a pen to the surface and signing their name.
Police officers. Prosecutors. A state senator. A hospital CEO.
Each symbolically and officially agreeing to do whatever is required to help sexual assault victims who turn to them in a moment of need.
Local leaders, including representatives from county law enforcement agencies, the Hancock County Prosecutor’s Office and Hancock Regional Hospital, came together Tuesday to announce protocols for a new Sexual Assault Response Team, an investigative group aimed at assisting local victims of sex crimes.
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The team, like others across the nation, exists to improve the community’s response to sexual assault, ensuring each victim is offered the same medical care and access to social services while outlining what law enforcement should do while shepherding a case through the criminal justice system, leaders said.
Protocols for the new team include securing a rape kit, if possible, for all victims, even those who don’t want to report an assault to law enforcement; evidence from such examinations will then be kept for one year under a confidential identification number. Other steps include promptly securing no-contact orders for victims who know their attackers and connecting victims to counseling and social services in a timely manner.
The goal is to ensure every rape survivor or victim of sexual battery, no matter how or when they choose to come forward, will have a consistent experience with the local health care and criminal justice systems, said Amanda Everidge, a community outreach coordinator for the Hancock Regional Hospital Foundation, who helped pen the protocol signed by law enforcement officials this week.
Sexual Assault Response Teams commonly investigate rape, sexual misconduct and sexual battery cases, Hancock County Prosecutor Brent Eaton said.
Statistics show sexual-assault related criminal cases have increased locally in recent years.
Fourteen sexual battery charges were filed in 2015 compared to just three in 2005.
The sexual assault protocols signed Tuesday address what law enforcement and medical professional should do depending on whether a victim wants to file a police report about their attack, officials said.
The county protocol calls for each victim to be examined by a doctor or a nurse with special training to assist victims of sexual assault. The victim can be seen at Hancock Regional Hospital or travel to Anderson to the Madison County Sexual Assault Treatment Center, where a nurse certified in sexual assault examinations is on call 24 hours a day.
All victims will be encouraged to have a rape kit collected, the protocol reads. Though rape kits are long and invasive procedures designed to collect evidence of a sexual assault, they can give a victim peace of mind by letting them know the extent of their injuries and ensuring those injuries are properly cared for, officials said.
Should a victim decide to have an exam but not report the crime, the evidence collected in the rape kit will be secured and held anonymously within a local police department for one year — should a victim change their mind — before being destroyed.
In the weeks that follow a sexual assault, social workers from Hancock Regional Hospital and representatives from local advocacy groups, including Anderson-based women’s crisis center Alternatives Inc., will reach out to the victim to connect them with counseling and other social services, the protocol reads.
For Greenfield Police Detective Sgt. Nichole Gilbert, who helped pen the new protocol, having a set of procedures in place for officers to follow is comforting.
It will help new detectives on the department and other departments in the area learn what procedures are proper and most successful, she said.
At the same time, official procedures are a sign to the community that local law enforcement takes allegations of sexual assaults seriously, Eaton said. Presenting a united front will hopefully encourage all victims to come forward, knowing local leaders are dedicated to holding an attacker responsible while walking alongside a victim during a difficult time, he said.
“… We need to make sure people know these crimes are important,” Eaton said. “These (victims) need to know they are important and that they have value and that we have procedures in place to protect them.”
Protocols for the newly formed Sexual Assault Response Team include:
- Securing rape kits for every victim, if possible
- Evaluating a victim’s need for medical care
- Storing evidence of assaults, even in cases when a victim does not immediately show interest in pursuing a criminal case against their attacker
- Providing immediate counseling resources to victims
- Funneling all sexual assault cases through a deputy prosecutor trained to handle cases of that nature
Hancock County prosecutors filed 3 cases of sexual-battery in 2005; by 2015, that number had risen to 14.
Source: Hancock County Prosecutor’s Office