Monroe County officials announced the formation of a county sexual assault response unit. But county officials say creation of such an operation in a city with so many students is years — and perhaps decades — overdue.
Monroe County Prosecutor Chris Gaal says when he attends national conferences and tells others his county lacks a cohesive unit which responds to sexual assaults, he often hears the same response.
“And they notice that I’m from a city with a major university and they kind of look at me and say, ‘You don’t have this? Really? And you have a major university?’ So this is the type of community that needs this most,” Gaal said. “I just think it hasn’t been made a priority before.”
Gaal says Monroe County, Bloomington and Indiana University have been behind the curve when it comes to coordinating efforts in sexual assault response.
Bloomington Police Captain Joe Qualters says more than 70 cases of sexual assault are reported each year in the city, but Gaal says that number represents only those actually reported to authorities. He and many other county officials believe the actual number of sexual assaults to be much higher.
He says the creation of the team could actually lead to a perceived increase in the number of incidents as more victims come forward to authorities.
Gaal says it’s been difficult to get Monroe County’s different organizations together on the issue, saying it took more than two years, dozens of meetings and grant funding to finally bring together the disparate parts.
IU Associate Dean of Students Carol McCord says the newly formed cooperative must show a better commitment to combating sexual assault.
“I think victims have fallen through the cracks in several ways. One and probably most important is that there is a terror among women that have already been victimized,” McCord said. “That if they decide to go ahead and take the next step and say, get a forensic exam, that that will start a chain of events that will be out of their control. There will be a police investigation. They see themselves in a CSI scene where they are in front of a courtroom full of people ready to question them. And that has unfortunately also often been the truth.”
Bloomington Hospital Emergency Services Administrative Director Mary Hoskins says she already has more than a dozen employees who want to receive training to become a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner. She says the mere presence of a viable system is vital to changing a culture where many are afraid to come forward to report incidents.
“It’s uncomfortable. When you think about that. It’s an uncomfortable experience. It’s uncomfortable for people to admit. It’s uncomfortable to deal with. It’s uncomfortable to think about,” Hoskins said. “[Such as], it happened in my backyard , in my dormitory. Those types of things. It’s not something that people want to put out there publically, like they would the flu, like they would heart failure.”
Gaal says other communities have had similar systems in place for years, noting Indianapolis formed its sexual assault response unit a quarter century ago.