Easing the burden on sexual assault victims and getting to the truth is no small task.
The Sexual Assault Response Team is meeting the challenge, said Heather Arnett, interim executive director of the Women's Resource and Crisis Center in Kenai and speaker at the Tuesday Soldotna Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
The team was formed in October 1998 and was patterned after the first SART team created in California 20 years ago, Arnett said.
Coordinating the role of law enforcement, sexual assault nurse examiners and victim advocates minimizes the number of times a victim must be interviewed.
Adding their opinions through SART's steering committee are the district attorney and the Alaska Division of Family and Youth Services.
Prior to the SART's existence, victims were examined at Homer's South Peninsula Hospital. Now exams and interviews are completed at Central Peninsula General Hospital.
"Since October 1998, there have been 84 examinations," said Jan Johnson, a sexual assault nurse examiner on the team and coordinator of the program at CPGH. "Sixty percent of those were children."
The strength of evidence collected by the team has resulted in the majority of perpetrators choosing to enter a plea, rather than go to trial, said Johnson
"Only one has actually gone to trial," Johnson said. "That saves the community anywhere from $50,000 to $70,000."
"(The team) is there to find the truth," said Shirley Warner, Soldotna's police chief.
Warner said that of 11 sexual assault cases from the Soldotna area, four were unfounded. Of the remaining seven that resulted in convictions, four involved assaults on minors.
Arnett said public awareness is key to supporting the Sexual Assault Response Team's efforts.
"You can help make people aware the team exists and encourage people who have information about sexual assaults to come forward," she said.
A video describing sexual violence and defining SART's role pointed out the four most common myths relative to sexual assault:
n Victims did something to cause a sexual assault;
n It isn't really rape unless the perpetrator is a stranger;
n If people are married, it can't be rape; and
n Men don't generally get raped and, if they do, it's because they're gay.
Arnett encouraged public participation through volunteer opportunities and urged anyone interested to contact the Women's Resource and Crisis Center.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, as well as National Child Abuse Awareness Month.
Information provided by RID, sponsor of the Alaskan Child Abuse Awareness Campaign, said the Alaska Department of Family and Youth Services had received:
n 7,876 reports of harm to children during fiscal year 1989 and
n 16,294 reports of harm done to children during fiscal year 1999.
Adult sex offenders in Alaska are required to register on the Alaska Sex Offender Registry. The registry, which provides photos and background information on the offenders, is available on the World Wide Web at www.dps.state.ak.us/Sorco/. According to that data, the following number of offenders are registered in peninsula communities:
n Anchor Point: 3
n Cooper Landing: 1
n Homer: 9
n Kasilof: 1
n Kenai: 61
n Nikiski: 10
n Ninilchik: 4
n Port Graham: 4
n Soldotna: 25
n Seldovia: 2
n Seward: 34
n Sterling: 4
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