The Moffat County Sexual Assault Response Team serves victims by reducing the time a person spends in interviews and working with the victim as much or as little as he or she requests. Team members said the group is invaluable to the community, but it needs a new space to meet with victims.

Photo by Hans Hallgren

The Moffat County Sexual Assault Response Team serves victims by reducing the time a person spends in interviews and working with the victim as much or as little as he or she requests. Team members said the group is invaluable to the community, but it needs a new space to meet with victims.

While sexual assaults increase, local response team loses exam space

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Anyone with information about a possible space for the Sexual Abuse Response Team to use can call Pat Tessmer, Advocates-Crisis Support Services executive director, at 824-9709, or Cmdr. Bill Leonard, with the Craig Police Department, at 826-2360.

A person is sexually assaulted at 2 a.m.

He or she calls the Craig Police Department, and a patrol officer asks the person if he or she wants to cooperate with an investigation.

The person doesn't want to relive the abuse.

The person doesn't want to tell a series of strangers about what happened, over and over again, day after day.

The person is afraid of what will happen next if he or she says, "Yes," to the patrol officer.

The Moffat County Sexual Assault Response Team does not want victims of sexual assault to be afraid.

The group consists of specially trained police department officers, Advocates-Crisis Support Services staff, Moffat County Department of Social Services officials, medical professionals and the 14th Judicial District Attorney's Office.

It approaches assaults as a team. By working together, it can avoid harassing a victim.

"Sexual assault is a very traumatic experience in and of itself," said Detective Jen Kenney, with the police department and the county Response Team. "We try to limit the trauma the victim is exposed to. With a group approach, the victim only has to tell their story once. Asking them to say it to a bunch of different people a bunch of different times, that's just re-traumatizing the victim."

The Response Team only has gotten stronger since it formed in 1997, and it has strengthened the bond between agencies, said Detective Caroline Wade, police department domestic violence and sexual abuse officer and Response Team member.

But, although the team has progressed, its target has gotten worse.

Moffat County follows national trends in that the number of sexual assaults increases every year, said Detective Ken Johnson, police department officer and Response Team member.

Advocates records - which are kept on an April to March calendar to match grant application requirements - show there were 65 primary sexual assault victims from April 1, 2007 to March 31, 2008.

There have been 84 such victims since April 1, 2008, through today. With another month to go before the annual cycle is over, that number is sure to increase, Advocates Assistant Director Karen Aragon said.

Elizabeth Oldham, 14th Judicial District Attorney, said Moffat County has "by far" the most sexual assault cases in her jurisdiction, which includes Routt and Grand counties.

Those statistics don't represent the 77 secondary victims since April 2007, which include any family members, friends, neighbors or acquaintances that know about the abuse.

"An assault can affect everyone in that family, and even outside of that family, greatly," Detective Johnson said. "That's why we bring in Social Services and Advocates, and we're all involved in the same case, because there's a lot going on in these situations, even past what law enforcement does."

No one could say why the number of cases has increased, other than pointing to a multitude of possible factors: economic problems, more cases being reported or an increase in alcohol abuse.

At the same time assaults become more common, the team faces losing its most valuable asset other than the people involved, Johnson said.

The Response Team uses a space at The Memorial Hospital MRI Center for victim exams and interviews. The space is just about perfect, team members said, because there is little public traffic through the building and they have 24-hour access.

But, the Response Team must move out by May 1.

The hospital needs it to provide family doctors to the community, said Samantha Johnston, TMH service excellence officer. TMH officials offered space inside the hospital building, but that won't work for what the Response Team needs.

Tessmer said privacy for the victim is the most important concern, and the hospital too is crowded with potential on-lookers.

The ideal space would have two to three rooms, said Cmdr. Bill Leonard, with the Craig Police Department. A medical setting would be best, but TMH has offered to provide medical equipment, as well.

There would have to be 24-hour access, Tessmer said, and a private entrance would be preferable but not necessary.

The hospital provided its space for free, so there isn't any money in the budget for rent, but the Response Team can apply for grants to pay rent if a space became available, she added.

The team needs to move as soon as possible, members added. With Dr. Andy Hughes now practicing family medicine at the MRI Center, there already are limits on what hours the team can use the facility.

Any residents with information on where the Response Team can find a temporary or permanent home are encouraged to call either Tessmer at 824-9709 or Cmdr. Leonard at 826-2360.

"These cases aren't slowing down," Detective Kenney said. "We want to continue to give the community the best services possible."

Johnson added that exam and interview space are not for the Response Team.

"This is for the victim," he said. "Sometimes, a person doesn't want to go to the jail or a public place to be interviewed."

The team and its space are essential to the community, Johnson said. He cares too much about the victims to think otherwise.

"Everyone on this team volunteered to do this," he said. "It's not about the crime itself. It's about helping someone."

Which is why he said it's so important to have a safe place in time for the next 2 a.m. phone call.

Collin Smith can be reached at 875-1794 or cesmith@craigdailypress.com.

Comments

CindyLou 5 years, 9 months ago

Am I reading this right? Our hospital once again sticks it to the community and the paper spins it so they come out smelling like a rose? I count four plugs for the hospital after one small bit about how the sheriffs office has to do sexual assualt examinations somewhere else. Amazing! Simply amazing. Does anyone over there actually use their brain before they make a decission. Why didn't they buy Dr. Told's practice like they kept saying they were? How many ads did the hospital buy in today's paper? When the Morning News was around we wouldn't have so much bias BS that's for sure.

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rockstar 5 years, 9 months ago

CindyLou:

Call me crazy, but why are you mad at the hospital again? The hospital is reacting to community needs - they said they wanted a family practice, not a sexual assault clinic. The hospital is making the decisions it has to make in order to do what the community is asking them to do - provide doctors for patients.

Maybe you have a solution that's better than what they came up with.

But I am really curious as to what I am missing here. Maybe you can enlighten me - what were the alternatives?

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CindyLou 5 years, 9 months ago

Mr Balboa,

As a small business owner I am just amazed at how little thought is given to the big picture. My taxes increased significantly to provide more money to the hospital and I would like to see that money spent wisely. Did you read the article at all? Did you see how many young women are impacted by their access to a safe, private place to have an examination? Randy gave law enforcement access to that facility because it was beneficial to the community. I am very happy to see the hospital participating in providing care to our residents, but they take one step forward and its followed by two steps backwards or at the very least one step backwards, because it seems they don't plan past the end of their nose. My oldest daughter was involved in a sexual assualt a couple years ago and that space was used to do an examination on her. Had that not been there, where would she have gone? Now I guess they just go the ER where everyone from the hospital will know about it (I have quite a few friends and ex-class mates who work for the hospital) because people talk, regardless of the rules saying they can't. Obviously you are not a woman and can't understand the gravity of the impact this will have on those willing to report and be examined for sexual assault.

The alternative is to plan like you are part of a community and not an island unto yourself.

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craiggirl 5 years, 9 months ago

Cindy,

Again, I what is your problem exactly? Yes, your taxes increased in part due to the hospital's mill levy increase AND in part due to the School District's mill levy increase. You want to make sure your tax dollars are being spent wisely, BUT you're mad that the hospital is NOT spending any additional money to provide office space to a doctor that THEY recruited for the community?

It is unfortunate that the space cannot accommodate both Dr. Hughes and the sexual assualt team. But they can't. I think the hospital had to look at the cost-benefit to the community, and more people will benefit from Dr. Hughes' operating in that space.

Maybe one question you should be asking is, Why aren't the medical clinics in Craig doing more to recruit new doctors? Two family docs have left Moffat Family Clinic and have not been replaced. Why is that? Is that because they know the hospital is taking all the heat on the shortage of doctors? In all of my decades living in Craig, this is the first time I've heard the hospital get blamed for this.

TMH did what was fiscally responsible. Not everyone can be happy with every decsion, but the choice was made to benefit the majority.

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grannyrett 5 years, 9 months ago

Isn't Dr. Told's clinic a private practice clinic? The hospital is a county owned facility. It doesn't seem that the hospital should be using taxpayers money to buy a private practice clinic. Why didn't some of the doctors who work at the clinic buy it? Can someone explain? Am I missing something here?

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lonelyone 5 years, 9 months ago

It got to the point that there was no one left but Dr Told and a P.A. From what I understand they had been looking for someone to buy it or some of those traveling Drs coming in for a month or so at a time, but guess that didn't work either.

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grannyrett 5 years, 9 months ago

Thank you lonely. The PA is my favorite. I have been using her for a doctor ever since she worked with Dr. Rathe.

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freeman 5 years, 9 months ago

if they were using the facility before dr hughes moved in ,,then a dr and his practice moves in,,would it not make sense to use the facility even more now for the response team seaing how it is now equiped with a doctor ??????who cares what time it is,,,when someone is assaulted,,,get the damn personel down there and take care of the victim,,,no exscuses,,,how damn hard can this be to be understood ????????

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Tom Soos 5 years, 9 months ago

I think that the VNA should step up to the plate and offer space to the team. This is more a Public Health Issue rather than a hospital issue.

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