Officials in the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) say survivors are never alone in Delaware County, even in a pandemic.
Nora Flanagan, coordinator for Delaware and Morrow counties’ Sexual Assault Response Network (SARN), said that even during the COVID-19 pandemic, people and agencies are working together to make sure survivors of sexual assault have the support and resources they need to help navigate their unique legal, health, and emotional needs.
“Many of these agencies work together on a Sexual Assault Response Team to coordinate services,” Flanagan said. “Agencies work together behind the scenes to make sure any gaps or needs a survivor has are being addressed in a trauma-informed, victim-centered way in Delaware County. The ultimate goal of a SART is to operate together to provide these services in a cohesive fashion. During COVID-19, some of the ways agencies operate have been altered to address the health and safety concerns of everyone, however, all remain open 24/7 for survivors.”
Flanagan said the SART includes SARN advocates, forensic nurses, law enforcement, and the team at Turning Point.
SARN advocates, she added, work with survivors to answers questions, connect them to resources, and help them to decide whether or not they should go to a hospital or to the police.
“Many times advocates can help the survivor talk through these decisions,” Flanagan said. “SARN advocates are still assisting survivors 24/7 with one-on-one crisis intervention and follow-up advocacy through our hotline, hospitals, law enforcement agencies, and in the community.”
Flanagan said depending on the survivor’s circumstances and needs, communication with SARN advocates can take place on a tablet, phone or online. She added it’s important that survivors know it’s “never too late to get help.”
“Since almost two-thirds of sexual assaults are not reported, many survivors may not talk to anyone about the assault until months or even years later,” Flanagan said. “Even during this pandemic, past and current survivors deserve healing and support in a safe and trauma-informed manner. SARN offers confidential workshops for survivors of sexual assault, harassment, and/or relationship violence.”
She added HelpLine is currently facilitating a free, confidential online peer-led support group during COVID-19 to provide “a safe space for survivors to come together and gain strength and empowerment.”
“If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted and needs more information on hospital exams, the criminal justice system, and/or to access our SARN services, call our free 24-hour confidential support line at 800-684-2324 or text helpline to 898211,” Flanagan said.
Forensic Nurse Annie Stevens said forensic nurses are trained to respond to victims of domestic violence, sexually assault, or survivors attempting to leave abusive situations. She added these nurses have remained available for survivors during the pandemic, and they provide assistance when it comes to handling medical and photographic documentation for injuries and collecting DNA for law enforcement.
“Violence does not stop but actually increases with the stress of COVID-19,” Stevens said. “All care is provided with consent of the individual patient. Nurses will not pressure or force anyone to comply if they are not comfortable. Forensic nurses understand the complex effects trauma has on the brain and give trauma-informed care, keeping the patient at the center of all they do.”
Stevens said anyone who needs medical attention in the aftermath of an assault should call 911 in the case of an emergency, and they will be told which emergency department to go to if they would like to be seen by a forensic nurse.
Police have continued to provide services to victims during the pandemic, according to Delaware City Police Department Capt. Adam Moore, who said the department has specially-trained detectives to investigate reported sexual assault cases.
“Every sexual assault case has a unique set of circumstances, and investigators are flexible and adapt to each individual case,” Moore said. “An emphasis is placed on making the process as convenient as possible for the survivor. DCPD detectives have trauma-informed training and as part of the SART, take a victim-centered approach.”
Moore said safety protocols like masks and social distancing are being practiced in these cases, and he encouraged survivors to report an incident as soon as possible by calling 911 or by calling the police department at 740-203-1111.
Another important local resource for survivors is Turning Point, which can provide shelter for victims and their children.
Deb McCurdy, a victims advocate at Turning Point, said the shelter provides free food and clothing if needed by the family in crisis.
“Victims can access Turning Point services 24/7 and 365 days a year by calling 740-382-8988,” McCurdy said. “Victims will be informed of the services that are immediately available concerning the incident when speaking with our 24/7 trained workers.”
McCurdy added a screening admission will be conducted in private at the time of contact, and ongoing referrals, supportive services, and peer support groups are available for domestic and sexual assault victims.
“A trained and certified victim advocate will be assigned to assist the victim with community referrals as well as understanding of the legal process to include requesting a protection order to keep the offender from contacting the victim,” McCurdy said. “The victim can also request supportive victim advocate’s assistance for hearings and meetings concerning their case, which lessens the burden of appearing alone in a time that may be stressful during the case.”
McCurdy said the shelter is practicing several safety protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and it remains open to serve all victims of sexual or domestic violence at two available shelters, one in Marion and one in Delaware.
“Both shelters serve males as well as female victims,” she said. “Service is also provided to gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, and queer victims. This is done all while providing professional and caring service with dignity and respect to each person reaching out for service with Turning Point.”
Flanagan said there are a variety of other agencies and organizations that provide support and services to the SART, including the Delaware County Victim Service Unit out of the prosecutor’s office, Legal Aid, Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center, Ohio Wesleyan University, Delaware County Sheriff’s Office, Powell Police Department, Delaware County Board of Developmental Disabilities, Delaware County Job and Family Services, Mt. Carmel Health System, Delaware County Prosecutor’s Office, Genoa Township EMS, OhioHealth and Grady Memorial Hospital.
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.