Sunday , April 23, 2017 - 5:00 AM
Reducing Utah’s alarming rate of sexual assault takes a community-wide effort, including a team working hard to collect the evidence required to bring perpetrators to justice.
The YCC Family Crisis Center honored three Weber County forensic and crime investigation professionals during its fifth annual Walk to End Sexual Assault, held Saturday at Big D Sports Park in Ogden. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and Utah continues to struggle with its sexual assault statistics. The state is 19th in the nation for forcible rapes, according to the Utah Department of Health. One in three Utah women will experience some kind of sexual assault. One in eight will be raped.
“The blame lies on the rapist,” said Terrie Stephenson, the YCC’s rape recovery coordinator. “If we could solve what happened in their life to cause that behavior, we could solve the whole problem. But really, they need services, too, they need education and they need consequences.”
First, however, perpetrators of sexual assault need to be caught and prosecuted.
Saturday’s event was the first time YCC staff honored professionals working in criminal justice during the awareness walk. They selected forensic nurse Jeanlee Carver, Ogden Police domestic violence investigator Bryce Cantwell and Detective Steve Haney with the Weber County Sheriff’s Office.
“We feel like they have went above and beyond serving victims of sexual crimes, which is a hard job,” Stephenson said.
Carver has 20 years of experience as a nurse. She’s a director for the Northern Utah Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners, or NUSANE. She specializes in child abuse and neglect for the Weber-Morgan Children's Justice Center.
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She said showing compassion to patients often comes easy to those who work in forensic nursing.
“However, we have to keep that mindset that we’re there to do a job, and that’s evidence collection as well as patient support,” she said.
Sexual assault and rape are complicated crimes, but she’s encouraged by the efforts she sees with sexual assault awareness events.
“I think that awareness is the only thing that’s going to help things change,” she said.
Cantwell has worked in his role at the special victims unit of the Ogden Police Department for 2.5 years. He said he’d like to see awareness grow of Utah’s sexual assault problem.
“This park should be filled up with people,” he said. “We have an epidemic of sexual assaults and domestic violence. We need the community to come together and … take the initiative.”
Haney has worked for the Weber County Sheriff’s Department for 20 years. He took on handling all adult sexual crimes five years ago.
“The hardest part about these cases is finding the evidence to prove it,” he said.
Victims are often reluctant to come forward after an assault, he said, which makes his job even harder.
“They say, ‘I didn’t know what to do, I was ashamed,’ it happens for so many reasons,” he said. “By the time they do come forward months later, it’s so hard to build a case. The quicker that these crimes are reported, the better chance we have of making a prosecutable case.”
The pain that comes from a rape or sexual assault stays with a victim, Haney said, but coming forward can be an important part of the healing process.
“There’s a process that needs to be followed, and one of (the steps) is closure,” he said. “One is having that person who took that part of them away held responsible for those actions.”
He acknowledged, however, that coming forward as a victim is tough.
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There’s an invasive exam, then the victim must meet with police and describe what happened, often re-experiencing their feelings of fear, guilt and shame.
When investigators can’t find enough evidence to take the accused to court, Haney said, explaining the situation to victims is “gut-wrenching.”
“It’s hard to actually meet with those people, look them in the eye and say ‘I believe this happened to you,’” he said. “Unfortunately, I don’t have enough evidence to prosecute this case.”
Haney added that in his two decades on the job, he’s never had a case where the perpetrator of a rape is a stranger to the victim.
Many misconceptions persist about rape and sexual assault, Stephenson said.
“Most people know the person who assaults them, it’s rarely a stranger,” she said. “It can hit anybody. We do have male victims, although it’s much less often that they’re reported … but it should not happen to anyone.”
The YCC Family Crisis Center helps victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, rape and homelessness. Their services are free of charge.
The youngest assault victim the organization has helped was five years old, and they’ve provided services to rape victims in their 70s, Stephenson said.
Victims can contact the center via their 24-hour crisis line at 801-392-7273 or by visiting www.ycchope.org. The YCC is located at 2261 Adams Avenue in Ogden.
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