By Favian Quezada
After sexual assault questions arise such as, who do you turn to and where can a person get help, the recommended first step for anyone who is sexually assaulted is to get to a hospital.
Britany Monahan, sexual assault coordinator for the East Texas Crisis Center, or ETCC, says that when an assault occurs, counselors arrive at the hospital to calm and even to help anyone who wishes to seek legal action.
“We can help them from anything to counseling in both individual and group setting and legal advocacy, so if they need help getting a protective order or referrals to an attorney or help with divorce, custody, things like that.” said Monahan.
When a sexual assault occurs, Monahan says that the person may feel the need to shower and bathe. Monahan says not to do this so the hospital nurses can collect more evidence from the victim. Showering can wash away crucial evidence that detectives can use to form a case. Go immediately to the hospital and get a sexual assault exam. Both ETMC and Trinity Mother Frances have SANE nurses (sexual assault nurse examiners).
“Victims of a sexual assault need to have a SANE exam done at the hospital because that’s where our evidence is gathered,” said Detective Andy Erbaugh of the Tyler Police Department. “Keep all the clothes. Don’t wash the clothes because the SANE nurse will take the clothes because there is physical evidence that’s on the clothes.”
Sexual assault does not always get reported either. According to Monahan, the process can be very humiliating for the victim. When a victim goes to the hospital the ETCC is called and notified. A staff member or volunteer goes out to the hospital to sit or just be with the person.
“A lot of times too they may not have much support there at the hospital when they’re going through all this stuff,” said Monahan.
If a victim decides to move forward with legal action the ETCC will aide investigators to get the information that they need to build a case. The ETCC will have a member present as the victim gives their statement or anytime they need to speak with police and don’t want to do it alone.
Erbaugh also says that, though a person may want to seek legal action, they will have to testify in front of the court and in front of the assailant.
“Our district attorney’s office acts as victims liaison. They’ll make sure everything is taken care of when you have to testify in court,” says Erbaugh. “And you don’t have to sit the entire time in the courtroom, but you have to get up there and testify.”
Erbaugh says that having to testify can deter people from proceeding with legal action. He says people should not let that deter them as they “need to get these people punished.”
Before court proceedings, however, an arrest has to be made. This means that while police are aware of the situation, until the investigation concludes, a suspect who sexually assaulted someone will still be out on the streets and able to do it again to someone else. Erbaugh also says that, though an arrest will be made as the evidence comes in, a person can still post bail, even if it is a high bail, the person can be back out.
“If (a victim) knows the person, there are a couple things people automatically think about,” said Erbaugh. “One is a restraining order and one is a protective order.”
A restraining order is a civil process only that is obtained though a Justice of the Peace. It is not enforceable by police. If a person violates a restraining order they may be fined but not arrested.
A protective order is more difficult to obtain, but when a person violates a protective order, they are arrested on sight.
When a person becomes a victim of sexual assault, police will give them what’s called a crime victims newsletter. Inside will contain all the resources they need as a victim of crime.
“It’s hard for a victim,” says Erbaugh. “And I want to let victims know that it is a long process and, if they stay the course, not only can the person be punished for what they did when they get out, they’ll have to register as a sex offender.”