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New UI police tool aids sexual assault victims

BY MATT STARNS | SEPTEMBER 27, 2012 6:30 AM

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University of Iowa police Crime-Prevention Specialist Alton Poole’s blaze-orange rubber bracelet clashes with his suit, but he doesn’t seem to mind.

“I look at it as this is a resource for the victim and a tool for whoever possesses it in their hands,” he said. “It’s not a police tool, per se; this is a community tool to help the victim.”

The bracelet Poole is referring to houses a USB flash drive preloaded with a PDF document of the Sexual Assault Response Matrix, a newly updated version of an existing guide created in 2009 for victims of sexual assault. The updated guide aggregates resources available to the victims of sexual assault into a single, organized page with a hyperlink and a phone number for each organization that offers help.

Poole said the page was created with help from such organizations as the UI Office of the Sexual Misconduct Response, the Rape Victim Advocacy Program, the Domestic Violence Intervention Program, Monsoon United Asian Women of Iowa, the Women’s Resource and Action Center, and the Johnson County Sexual Assault Response Team, as well as from the UI Counseling Service.

In addition to the bracelets, Poole said the matrix is hosted on the UI police website and may be hosted on the websites of organizations that assisted with the project, though he didn’t know which specific sites.

Poole said the department’s order for the bracelets had to be doubled due to demand in UI residence hall staff. He said there were over 800 bracelets produced at a cost of roughly $5,000 to the department.

He said the new matrix is a significant improvement over the old information delivery system.

“In the beginning, when our officers responded to a sexual assault, we handed out this packet,” Poole said, holding a folder filled with brochures. “The concept was good, because here you have information from other agencies that can help bring [the victim] to a place of normalcy.”

He said the problem, however, was the daunting amount of information contained in the packet.

“We already know that when a victim goes through duress, goes through trauma, the decision-making process diminishes tremendously,” Poole said, and some victims found the packet simply too overwhelming during the aftermath of what he called, “a life-changing event.”

UI Sexual Misconduct Response Coordinator Monique DiCarlo said, while there are also other tools available to survivors of sexual assault, the updated matrix is a valuable resource.

“The nice part about a tool like that, it emphasizes that there’s a number of ways to start responding to an incident,” she said. “[The victim] might be thinking more about your medical needs, and not your reporting options.”

Both Poole and DiCarlo emphasized the importance of seeking medical help after an assault, even if the victim does not wish to pursue legal action against the assailant.

“It’s really critical, even if you’re not sure you want to file a police complaint,” DiCarlo said. “A window of opportunity [can be] missed for the gathering of physical evidence.”

She said in order to collect medical evidence of an assault, the victim must seek help within five days of the assault. After that, preventive care can be provided, but evidence would not be collected.

“If they don’t get an exam, there’s no way for us to actually collect evidence to help corroborate the story in court,” Poole said. “It makes the process much more difficult.”

Records of sexual-assault exams are filed by number instead of name to protect victim’s identity, Poole said, and Green said they are kept on-hand by police for 10 years after the assault in case the victim later decides to press charges.

Poole said regardless of which path a victim pursues for help, the matrix will help them make an informed decision.

“People, they handle stress differently,” he said. “This is why you give them options; this is why there is no first step. You give them options so they can make a decision based on where they are, emotionally and mentally.”


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