Network Against Sexual Violence, Cape police cooperate on rape cases

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Cape Girardeau Police Department has adopted a new policy concerning adult rapes, and it involves providing better support for victims of sexual assault crimes.

As of July 16, the Southeast Missouri Network Against Sexual Violence will be called immediately after someone informs police they have been raped, allowing a victim's advocate from NASV to be a part of the process from the beginning, said Sgt. Barry Hovis, spokesman for the police department.

Tammy Gwaltney, director of NASV, said the organization has always had a system in place for sexual assaults involving children that are reported to Cape Girardeau police, but for years there was no parallel system of cooperation for cases reported by adults.

"In our current system, there seems to be some confusion as to when NASV becomes involved and even where to take the victim for the examination," wrote Lt. Tracy Lemonds, supervisor of the detective division.

To resolve the issue, the NASV victim's advocate now receives a call to respond to the person reporting the sexual assault the same time as police are dispatched, said Debi Oliver, sexual assault investigator for the Cape Girardeau police.

As for where to take the victim for examination, Oliver said she always prefers that adult victims call police and notify them of the assault immediately instead of going straight to the hospital, unless they need medical attention.

Allowing the forensic exam to be conducted at NASV means police can begin investigating the crime immediately. It also means there's a greater chance of preserving some of the physical evidence, Oliver said.

So far, NASV has been informed immediately and accompanied police on about five calls, Oliver said.

"As far as we're concerned, the new policy is working out very well," Gwaltney said.

The objective of the policy is to have an advocate meet the adult victim and establish a rapport at the moment they identify themselves to police.

"It's a support system for the victim," Oliver said. She hopes the additional support will encourage more victims to come forward and report sexual assault.

Although the new initiative gives NASV an earlier entry point into the case, it doesn't change the organization's role in performing forensic interviews and examinations of victims, Gwaltney said.

Hovis said the changes have been good for the department and police will continue to work with NASV as long as services are made available.

"It's a traumatic experience, so they're trying to give as much support as they can," Hovis said of NASV's role.

NASV works in 10 counties in Southeast Missouri, a large territory, and some law enforcement jurisdictions have their own victim advocates they like to use, Gwaltney said.

The process for handling adult rapes varies between areas, but the cooperation with Cape Girardeau is something she would like to see expanded in all counties, she said.

bdicosmo@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 245

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