Resources Available for Victims of Sexual Assault in San Juan County
Sexual assaults have increased in Washington State.
According to San Juan County Detective Ray Harvey, sexual assault crimes against children, in particular, have increased by 25%. Dave Dunaway, executive director of SAFE San Juans, said that in fiscal year 2021, the organization provided 2,744 hours of support services to 162 survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Sexual assault is a traumatic experience that continues long after the actual event. SAFE San Juans wants islanders to know it is available to provide as much support as possible.
An online presentation was held on February 17 to educate the community on the signs of sexual assault and what to expect from a medical examination, police investigation and the criminal justice system. Dunaway was pleased with the turnout.
“There’s a lot of confusion and I think you know, anxiety around what happens when someone reports,” Dunaway said. “And they say, you know, what’s going to happen to me now, what can I expect when I report, how am I going to be treated?
He said that did not include the number of those who may have contacted the sheriff’s office, but not SAFE San Juan.
Dunaway said the Zoom meeting had been in the works for years.
“At the end of the day, the topics we talk about represent the things that people have asked us for more information about and represent where there has generally been confusion,” he said.
Therapy at SAFE San Juans is funded through various means, including grants and donations. It is free for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault on a case-by-case basis. The staff offers in-person and teletherapy appointments. Survivors seeking therapy will first be connected with an advocate to assess their safety and needs and then connect them with other services or resources.
Speakers included Dunaway, Harvey, SAFE San Juans therapist Samantha Graham, Detective Lucas Peters and San Juan County Assistant Attorney General Teresa Barnett. SAFE Program Director Courtney Smith led the meeting.
Graham kicked off the presentation by addressing the topic of researching the physical signs of childhood sexual abuse. This could include bleeding, bruising, swelling, pain when sitting or walking, frequent urinary or yeast infections, burning in the genital area, frequent headaches, weakened immune system and nausea or vomitings. Behavioral signs may be refusal to bathe or excessive bathing, difficulties at school, regressive behavior, running away, self-harm, difficulty concentrating, and changes in appetite or sleep patterns. Of reported child sexual abuse cases, 93% are known to the victim, Graham said. Line grooming is also a factor.
To help protect your child, it’s important to get involved in their life, get to know the people around them, choose their caregivers wisely, talk about cybersecurity, know the warning signs, encourage them to express themselves and listen to them.
She stressed the importance of healing victims to end the cycle of abuse.
Graham pointed out that each SAFE San Juans case and client is unique.
“Some people ask for help immediately,” she said. “For others, it may be many years before they decide to come forward. They have been living with this trauma for a long time and decide they need help.
If a victim calls 9-1-1 following an assault, dispatch sends an assistant to take the initial report. Depending on the case, detectives may be involved immediately or may not be involved for a day or two. Harvey said they try to make the process as non-invasive as possible and understand that victims may not know all the details in advance.
To put victims more at ease, detectives follow the pace the victim prefers, he said.
“We do them quite often; there’s probably nothing you’re going to surprise us with,” he said, expressing that people don’t need to be ashamed of sharing private information.
However, for those who wait longer, some courses of action might not be viable. Along with a medical exam, victims are encouraged to schedule one within 96 hours of the assault. After this time, the collectible evidence is lost. Examinees are also encouraged not to shower, drink or smoke beforehand. An examination is always allowed if the victim showered, drank or smoked. By law, all hospitals are required to have the capacity to carry out these examinations and they take place in a quiet and private setting. Regardless of the circumstances, SAFE San Juans may appoint a medical attorney to assault survivors.
Survivors can receive what is called a sexual assault nurse exam free of charge following an assault. These services are supported by the state. Advocates can meet survivors at the hospital and be present at an examination for help. Advocates may also attend any follow-up medical appointments if a survivor wishes.
An assessment can be made without filing a complaint with the police. If a victim decides they want to make a report to law enforcement, they can also decide if they want to move forward with charges.
Barnett said victims would contact her either independently or through a victims’ attorney. She does not investigate the case but she works closely with detectives.
After a crime comes to her office as a referral from the sheriff’s office, she makes the final decision on the charges.
Graham clarified that if a lawsuit is filed, SAFE San Juans cannot provide legal advice, but it can connect victims with an attorney to help and support them with paperwork and attend legal appointments. . They also help file and complete protection orders. The county court also offers system-based sexual assault advocates, separate from SAFE San Juans, to help victims through the court process.
“We want victims to have the support and services they need to heal and we’re going to help them provide those resources and help them along the way, but we’re not going to put the onus on them. investigation or prosecution. It’s our job, so we’ll take it,” Barnett said.
Victims may have to testify in court. The case will be resolved either through the trial process or through a guilty plea.
The organization also provides crisis response and security planning which can be offered in person or on 24-hour crisis telephone lines, as well as the appointment of a security planning advocate to individual survivors.
Dunaway said they don’t currently have any other community training planned, but he’s excited the events can be in-person again as they will have more opportunities.
“We’re here for survivors every step of the way,” Graham said.
SAFE Crisis Lines San Juans—San Juan Island: 360-378-2345; Orca Island: 360-376-1234; Lopez Island: 360-468-4567. Visit https://safesj.org/ for more information.