Every 107 seconds, another American is sexually assaulted, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. Two-thirds of these assaults have been committed by someone the victim knows, and 68 percent of sexual assaults go unreported to authorities.
The Bradley University Police Department (BUPD) defines a forcible sexual offense as, “Any sexual act directed against another person, forcibly and/or against that person’s will; or not forcibly or against the person’s will where the victim is incapable of giving consent.”
In February, BUPD received two separate, unrelated reports by Bradley students of criminal sexual assault-rape within a three-day period. Because Sexual Assault Awareness Month (April) is approaching, The Scout sat down with key responders on and off campus to discuss what comes next when a student or someone they know has been sexually assaulted.
The most important message to remember, according to all four responder groups, is that it is never the victim’s fault, and help is available in many forms.
Independent advocates for students
Julie Boland is the director of Sexual Assault and Advocacy Services at the Center for Prevention of Abuse, a Peoria resource center that confidentially advocates for victims of sexual assault independently of Bradley, the police and the hospitals.
“We have an agreement with hospitals that if a survivor [of sexual assault] comes, we [are called and] go automatically without asking the victim,” Boland said.
However, Boland said if the victim would like them present, they would be. If the victim does not, they will leave. It is not a mandated part of the process.
“[An advocate’s job] is information and support,” Boland said. “There’s a very lengthy forensic exam. [If they want], we’ll stay with them and explain all of that.”
Boland detailed how the advocate would serve as the support system for the victim, providing them with options, resources and explanations for the hospital process and more. Following a hospital visit, the advocate would follow up with the victim about 24 hours later.
“What we would do then is share opportunities for counseling and other services,” Boland said. “Our therapists are free and confidential.”
Boland said the most notable aspect of the process is the extent to which the advocates go to protect and serve their patients’ confidentiality.
“We have a higher level of confidentiality than attorney-client privilege or doctor-patient privilege,” Boland said. “We have never successfully had a case subpoenaed that we’ve had to give up.”
Bradley University Director for Student Support Services and Title IX Coordinator Anne Hollis said the advocates at the Center for the Prevention of Abuse are a reliable and credible group because they know Peoria laws, Bradley policies and hospital procedures well enough to assist students confidentially in all aspects.
Boland said even all victims and their supporters are welcome to reach out to the Center for confidential, free services at any time.
“I encourage them to reach out for support even one or two times after being assaulted, just getting that additional support,” Boland said. “A little bit of guidance by having a sounding board is going to provide you with a lot of information and some important groundwork to help the healing process.”
The Center offers counseling, peer support groups, family support, literature and even legal advocates.
“A legal advocate, should they choose that route, will be there for [the victim] through transportation, court preparation, compensation, taking statements [and] police reports,” Boland said. “It can be very empowering to take it through the system…and find a level of acceptance.”
Boland said it is important to be there for the victim and for each other, especially as college students.
“Statistics tell us that young people feel invincible or protected, and it is certainly not always that way,” she said. “Please understand it can and does happen to anyone and everyone. We all need to be aware and prepared, have each other’s back and keep each other safe.”
Hospital examination process
OSF Hospital Pediatric Quality Coordinator Carolyn Henricks and Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner [SANE] team member Stefanie Clarke outlined the process a male or female would go through from start to finish if the victim chooses to pursue the route of a hospital examination.
“When you first walk up to our front desk, we’ll ask your name, date of birth and what brings you in to see us,” Clarke said. “The moment we hear ‘sexual assault,’ we stop asking questions. You’ll get your own private room to wait in. You don’t sit in the waiting room or regular [emergency] room because we consider sexual assault survivors to be on the priority level of a heart attack or a stroke.”
Clarke said from that point on, the focus is on providing comfort and care for the victim.
“I sit down with my patient first, and we talk,” she said. “I get their medical history, and then I go step-by-step and have them tell me, in detail, what happened. I give them options and explain what happens next.”
Clarke said patients’ options are varied, and it is up to them to decide which route they wish to pursue. One option includes testing for STDs and HIV with no police involvement. Another includes only receiving medical treatment. Still another involves retrieving a DNA sample and getting the police involved.
According to Clarke, DNA samples are collected by the “scraping of fingernails, combing or brushing of hair, blood and urine tests, and even skin swab samples.”
“The idea behind having a SANE nurse is that you can tell me [your story], and if you want, the police; but the only person you have to tell your detailed story to is me,” Clarke said.
If a DNA sample is retrieved, it will be transported to a crime lab in Morton in the case a victim decides to pursue further legal action, according to Henricks.
“A person who commits sexual assault can be prosecuted based on how many times they enter the body [of the victim],” Henricks said. “That kit, once collected, is taken to the lab by the police officer. If we do that kit, then we do have to tell the police.”
Clarke said, however, that if a victim chooses later to not pursue legal action, he or she could always go to the crime lab within one month and say they do not want the sample to be run.
One comment Clarke said she hears most often is that legal action is not pursued because the victim feels his or her story is not believable.
“We do believe you, and we’ll never doubt that,” she said.
To obtain all of the DNA samples and perform proper treatments, the SANE nurse must end with a pelvic exam, Clarke said.
“We will make it as quick as possible,” she said. “You’ll be in stirrups for less than five minutes.”
From the door to discharge, Henricks said the process takes between four and six hours.
Clarke said, no matter what, the victim is never at fault.
“Those are lies we tell ourselves,” she said. “Did you put yourself at risk? Possibly. Almost every single case involves alcohol, but there’s no judgment at all. That doesn’t mean you need to be raped. You didn’t ask for that. Just because [a woman] wears a short skirt or goes to a party doesn’t mean she’s asking to be raped.”
Henricks echoed Clarke’s message, adding that being drugged or drunk does not equal consent, even if it is a boyfriend or girlfriend.
“We still have the right to say no,” Henricks said.
Those treated for sexual assault will typically be financially covered under Illinois state law, according to Henricks. There are also follow-up vouchers that can be given to revisit a doctor if problems that spring from a sexual assault, such as a yeast infection, are present.
Illinois law section 11-1.20 states, “The court shall order that the cost of the tests shall be paid by the county and shall be taxed as costs against the accused, if convicted.”
Finally, Henricks said victims should not feel alone in this process.
“Two thirds of those assaulted know their perpetrator,” Henricks said. “I want [victims] to know that it’s not their fault; they are not to blame. We have resources for counseling and treatment. I want more people to come in and not have to live with it and suffer alone.”
On-campus policies and procedures
Bradley University Director for Student Support Services and Title IX Coordinator Anne Hollis said her role is to advocate for the student victims.
“[When I am notified of a sexual assault case], I reach out to the victim,” she said. “When I do, I present to them, ‘Here are your rights through the university, legally, both or neither. This is your choice what you want to do.’”
Hollis said the focus is on the health and healing of the student, and the route taken to that healing is the student’s choice.
“It is important to understand [that sexual assault] is a crime of power, and we don’t want to victimize [the student] again by taking the power,” she said. “I tell them their options and that they need to do whatever they need to do to heal.”
In most Bradley cases, Hollis said the victim chooses not to pursue legal action; however, Hollis said there are many options beyond legal reporting that are available.
“Part of offering them these options is not to dissuade them from reporting but to empower them so that they have control of what happens next,” Hollis said. “We still have services even if they want to do nothing legally. We can move them to a different [residential] hall or help on the academic side by offering them confidential extra help without telling professors. We can offer counseling, health exams for STDs, and we also can provide no-contact orders.”
According to The Law Dictionary, a no-contact order “prohibits a person from being in physical or verbal contact with another person…If broken, the defendant may receive a fine or jail time with a felony or misdemeanor charge.”
“On our campus, this could mean, for example, [banning the perpetrator] from the residence hall the victim lives in,” Hollis said. “We can move their classes, too.”
Regardless of the route the student chooses to take, Hollis said the process almost always remains confidential.
“The only time we may need to move forward [legally] is when a weapon is used, there is more than one perpetrator, there are cameras recording it, it is involving a minor, or the location at which the sexual assault occurred is a repeat location [that reveals a sexual assault trend],” she said.
Hollis said one thing students can do is to center their approaches to sexual assault on creating an environment where asking permission for sexual activity is commonplace and not just assumed.
“We spend a lot of time talking about how to protect yourself from this happening,” she said. “We need to change the conversation to asking for consent. This needs to be on the people, not the victim.”
Bradley University Police Chief Brian Joschko said the number one concern when a student comes to the BUPD with a sexual assault report is the safety of the victim and attention paid to whether or not immediate medical care is needed.
“Once that assessment is made, we will begin a preliminary investigation by speaking with the victim,” he said. “Although we recommend the interview occur at the Police Department, we can conduct it at the location of preference for the victim.”
Joschko said providing support for the victim through moral support is also important.
“We always will look to find someone who can provide support for the victim,” he said. “Those support providers could be friends, but we also have counselors, Student Affairs professional staff or members of the Center for Prevention of Abuse available.”
Deciding on whether or not to pursue immediate legal action is a up to the victim, Joschko said.
“The decision to file criminal charges is not something that needs to be immediately decided, and the victim does not need to provide the identity of the suspect at this point,” he said. “Regardless of those choices, we will collect any evidence that may be available so that it can be preserved for later possible prosecution. We always recommend that victims see a SANE nurse.”
Joschko said his department can provide resources, transportation and a walkthrough of the legal process. He also said ‘no means no’ and giving consent needs to be the message students spread.
“People need to know that it is not okay to sexually assault someone, it is not okay to grope someone, and it is not okay to take advantage of a person under the influence of alcohol or drugs,” he said.
For a full listing of programming and services offered by BUPD and Bradley University, such as self-defense classes and counseling, view the Annual Security and Fire Safety Report on the Bradley website.