R.A.P.E. Treatment Center gets ready to open
Consider these disturbing facts:
Most rapes are not committed by a stranger in a dark alley; in 50 percent of all rape cases, the victim knows the assailant. There’s a good chance the victim will be raped in her home. The number of sexual assault cases in metropolitan areas is dropping, but it’s increasing in rural areas, says Harrison County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Cheryl Hillenburg.
Many rapists are serial rapists. They haven’t raped just once; they have raped perhaps nine or 10 times. Most rapes are not reported. For every rape that’s reported, nine go unreported.
Another fact: When a community develops a well-publicized and professionally-run rape treatment center, more rapes are reported and the conviction rate goes up.
At a free, private sexual assault treatment center — like the one that will open April 18 in Milltown — specially trained nurses will examine rape victims in total privacy with a colposcope that can collect evidence to be used in court.
Victims will be interviewed by sympathetic police who will start the search for the rapist. A third key person will be a victim’s advocate, who is sympathetic to the victim and immediately involved in the case.
Most rape victims — perhaps as much as 95 percent — do not want to report the crime to officials for several reasons. First, it’s humiliating and degrading, and some victims think it is somehow their fault. Second, they will likely be taken to a hospital for highly personal examinations by personnel who lack specialized training in sexual assault examinations. In an emergency room, they might be kept waiting for hours while more critical cases get priority. Third, a rape victim might well suffer the indignity of seeing friends and neighbors in the ER or being interviewed by an unsympathetic police officer. Fourth, medical records of sexual assault victims are kept with all other medical records, and thus not always confidential. Fifth, and possibly most crucial, during the prolonged prosecution of the case in court, defense attorneys often make the survivor feel victimized all over again.
However, once victims undergo an exam by a nurse trained specifically for that, most change their mind and cooperate with a police investigation, Hillenburg said.
For several people, the new Regional Alliance to Prevent Exploitation (R.A.P.E.) Treatment Center in the Milltown medical center (633-2500) is a dream come true, especially for Hillenburg, Pam Davis, a Corydon nurse and counselor, and Lola Ratterman, a registered nurse who works at Harrison County Hospital. All have worked hard for years to develop a local treatment center. The R.A.P.E Center in Milltown will see assault victims 13 years and older from Harrison, Crawford and Orange counties.
At a recent meeting of the center’s board of directors and advisory board, Hillenburg said the first time she tried a rape case, she lost because of improper evidence collection at a large metropolitan hospital. She vowed that would never happen again.
She and Ratterman attended special Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) training. In her most recent rape cases, Hillenburg won them because evidence had been properly collected during thorough medical examinations.
Ratterman says most of the rape patients she sees are under 18.
Here’s how the center will operate.
When a woman has been raped, she can call the Treatment Center toll-free (1-866-771-7273). That call will be forwarded to the Harrison County Justice Center in Corydon. A dispatcher there will notify the police and a nurse. The nurse will call a patient advocate. Both will meet the victim at the Treatment Center. If the victim cannot get to Milltown by herself, the police will bring her.
The victims will be examined by trained nurses who will use a colposcope, a sophisticated microscope that can detect injuries unseen by the naked eye. It can record evidence on film or videotape that’s almost irrefutable in court.
The R.A.P.E. Treatment Center has two examination rooms, a conference room, a private waiting room and an office. In cases where the victim is responsible for small children, she can bring them with her to the center, where they will be watched safely by an advocate during the three or four hours the treatment and interview process can take.
If her injuries warrant, she will be taken by ambulance to a hospital for further treatment.
The medical equipment was donated by an obstetrician-gynecologist in Louisville. Many volunteers have helped refurbish and equip the center, which the town of Milltown has provided at a low rent.
A tree on one wall in one room will appeal to children. The “leaves” will be provided by children’s handprints. The tree art was conceptualized by Caleb Wilson and painted by Jeannie Bodney.
Dr. Stacey Merritt, an ER doctor at HCH, is the center’s medical director.
The treatment center has received funds from the Foundation of Southern Indiana and Harrison County Community Foundation, and the center now has an endowment fund. Several groups provided the money for the colposcope. The center is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization, which means donations are tax deductible.