Fayetteville and Portland: Reforming the Response to Sexual Assault

(Kelly Taylor)
I’ve been a trauma and
ER nurse for 14 years, and through the Emergency Department is where we see our victims
of sexual assault and domestic violence, and we really saw a need
within the military community that we were having
patients present to us that were needing this very specific
kind of care and evidence collection. (Lt. John Somerindyke)
I was a crimes against persons
detective from ’97 to 2005 before I got promoted to
sergeant and went to patrol, and I thought we could be doing more as we actually were just pulling up
old reports and reviewing them. That wasn’t really being done
on a regular basis. I don’t think we ever were
really communicating that well, we weren’t tracking the
unsolved rapes like we should be. I thought a lot were slipping
through the cracks. It would take over a year to get the results back
from one test of one kit. (Cdr. George Burke)
We really took a deeper dive
into looking at the issue. We realized that we had
untested sex assault kits that really needed to be submitted
to the state crime lab for analysis. So the first steps
were fairly daunting. I mean, we had, we reached out
to our property and evidence room just to figure out what the scope
of the problem might look like, and that’s when we realized
we had a lot of cases that we could not
necessarily account for. Between that and responses
that we were receiving back from the state crime lab
regarding DNA testing and their administrative processes, it was pretty obvious that we
needed to look deeper into it. (Lt. Somerindyke)
And that was frustrating
for us, I mean, we had a lot of kits we wanted
to send off–we couldn’t. We have sexual assault kits
here going back to 1984. Unfortunately our reporting system, our electronic reporting system
only goes back to 1992. Prior to that we only
have microfilm archives. (Cdr. Burke)
I think the first reaction is
to put up their hands and build a wall, because they don’t want
to be subject to criticism for not doing something
that they should have done. And so the first thing
is, own it, accept it, figure out how you’re
going to make it better, and then move it forward. (Lt. Somerindyke)
But the grant has helped
open our eyes to that and helped reveal some of
the shortcomings we did have. (Cdr. Burke)
The biggest success right now is the fact that we applied for
and received the SAKI grant. We are, I think, well underway
right now as to moving forward with putting the initiatives together so that we are not going to have
to deal with this in the future. I mean, it’s, we’re going to
put systems in place to ensure that we’re not talking about
untested kits again, because we won’t have any. (Lt. Somerindyke)
Part of the grant is
helping pay for getting all of those microfilm
archives digitized so we’ll be able to
easily view those reports and determine which kits
need to be sent off for testing. (Kelly Taylor)
It’s been great because
we’ve been able to partner more with Fayetteville PD
and with the Initiative, and really get a clear understanding– national standards, expectations,
what’s occurring in communities. (Lt. Somerindyke)
It pays for a cold-case
victim advocate which works out of
our local rape crisis, and as you can imagine,
being a military community, a lot of our victims
are out of state, but he stays on top of them also
and gets them local resources, as far as counseling or therapy
or anything they may need. (Kelly Taylor)
Because that is kind of
the fruit of our labor, what we’re doing with the DNA
evidence collection in those kits, so to know that those kits
are now going to make it to the lab, and get those results back,
is very fulfilling for us as nurses to know that what we’re
putting in those boxes are actually going
to make a difference. (Lt. Somerindyke)
The technology has evolved,
since then even our state lab, we’re getting quicker results
back with our state lab, but even more so with the
private labs we have access to, we’ve had a whole lot
quicker turnaround time. So we anticipate being able to
solve a lot of these cases where it just wasn’t possible
back in the day. (Cdr. Burke)
And the process of the kit
collection is so invasive, and the thought that these kits
would just sit on shelves and discarded, almost really, I think,
said a lot to me. It resonated with how it
would make a victim feel, and they’ve already–victims
have already been victimized, you know, they get victimized
a multitude of times throughout the system, and this was one more time. And so, it really became
important to me, and it’s really about showing
our community and our victims that what they went
through truly does matter. (Susan Lehman)
For years society has swept sex
abuse and childhood sex abuse under the carpet. It was a taboo
topic to talk about. And luckily over the last
few years that has changed. It’s coming more
to the forefront. (Kelly Taylor)
But we had a rape case about
four years ago here at Ft. Bragg, where there was a tremendous
amount of evidence, and our nurses, we actually had
two nurses dedicated to the case– there was that much
forensic evidence. That case did go to court
here at Ft. Bragg, and it did actually yield
a sentence of 20 years, which is a really large sentence
within this community. So that was a very successful case
that we actually participated in, and we’ve had several cases
that have been very successful. (Det. John Benazi)
These cases now–arrest
somebody from ’04, ’05, ’06– and the victim calls, she’s
like, “Thank you so much,” like, “I’ve been waiting
for this closure.” Getting these old cases closed
really means a lot. (Lt. Somerindyke)
…to all victims of all
sexual assaults out there that happened in Fayetteville,
that we didn’t forget about you, we do care about what happened
to you, it’s important to us, and we’re going to do our best
to get you justice.

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