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Chris Gaal
Monroe County Prosecuting Attorney

Carol McCord
Associate Dean of Students

Steve Hinnefeld
University Communications

Last modified: Thursday, August 27, 2009

New campus-community initiatives focus on sexual assault

Aug. 27, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University officials joined representatives from local government, medical providers, law enforcement agencies and other organizations today (Aug. 27) to announce the creation of a new Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) designed to improve the community's response to sexual assault incidents.

Sexual Assault Conference

Photo by Aaron Bernstein

IU Bloomington Provost Karen Hanson speaks at a news conference announcing a new Sexual Assault Response Team.

Print-Quality Photo

Monroe County Prosecuting Attorney Chris Gaal spearheaded the drafting of a written protocol to coordinate responses to sexual assault incidents, and led fundraising efforts to help create a new Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Program at Bloomington Hospital. Both the SART protocol and the SANE program are now ready to be implemented.

The protocol describes the SART as a community-based effort to coordinate resources to respond effectively to sexual assault incidents and collect evidence with sensitivity for the victim. It encourages sexual assault victims to obtain a forensic medical examination from a SANE nurse to document injuries and preserve evidence that can be later used for prosecution.

"It is important that victims be empowered to decide whether or not they want to report," Gaal said in a news conference at the IU Bloomington Sample Gates. "Often they need time to talk to friends, family and counselors in order to make that decision and come forward. In the meantime, we want to keep the door open by ensuring that the best available evidence is collected, documented and preserved."

The SART will promote a public education campaign aimed at preventing sexual assault among college students and encouraging reporting. "Got Consent? Ask," reads a locally-designed poster showing a series of falling dominos. The campaign hopes to educate students about the meaning of consent, emphasizing the message "Only yes means yes!"

"This is very important for our students and for the community as a whole," said IU Bloomington Provost and Executive Vice President Karen Hanson. "We will be taking very seriously the educational part of the mission as well as the response part of the mission."

"Federal statistics show that women in college are more at risk to be sexually assaulted than at any other time in their lives," added Debbie Melloan of the Sexual Assault Crisis Service at IU Bloomington. "Education is extremely important to cause change. Sex without consent is a crime, and there can be serious consequences."

Dee Owens with the IU Alcohol and Drug Information Center agrees that education is a key prevention strategy. "A majority of these cases involve high blood-alcohol levels," she said. "No one can give consent unless conscious and aware. Students who use alcohol or other drugs to obtain sex must understand these actions are criminal and endanger their status at IU."

The SART protocol calls for an immediate response by a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, a victim advocate and a law enforcement officer. The SANE is a nurse with special training to conduct a forensic medical examination to treat and document injuries, provide medical information to the victim, and properly collect evidence using the State Police "rape kit."

Grants from the Bloomington Hospital Foundation and Monroe County and Bloomington government helped create the SANE program at Bloomington Hospital. Several nurses have completed SANE training, and Bloomington Hospital is committed to providing the service with 24/7 on call availability, said Vice President of Patient Care Services Ruth Ann Morris.

Victim advocates respond to victim questions, provide support and comfort, help explain the hospital exam process, and describe available legal options. On-site advocacy services are provided at the two hospitals in Bloomington by Middle Way House and at the IU Health Center by the Sexual Assault Crisis Service.

In the event a victim chooses not to report an incident, law enforcement will store the "rape kit" under a confidential number for one year, giving the victim time to reconsider the decision. If a non-reporting victim chooses to report at a later time, law enforcement will then conduct a criminal investigation.

The SART also produced a brochure that will be distributed both to sexual assault victims and the general public to explain the new program. The question-and-answer format brochure explains topics such as "What Is Sexual Assault?" "Who Is There To Help Me?" "What Can I Expect?" and "What Should I Do If I Have Been Sexually Assaulted?"

The SART includes participation from local hospitals, local law enforcement agencies, Middle Way House, and several organizations affiliated with Indiana University. In order to explain the new procedures, the prosecutor's office has organized a free training for participating SART members on Sept. 22. Prosecutors from neighboring Owen and Greene counties plan to model SART programs based on the Protocol developed in Monroe County.