Official attributes increase in sexual assault exams to growing awareness

CNJ staff photo: Sharna Johnson Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners report an increase in exams during the month of October.

Sharna Johnson

October saw a spike in the number of sexual assault exams performed in Curry County, a dynamic Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Director Amber Hamilton attributes to increased awareness.

Hamilton said SANE nurses conducted 19 exams in Curry County during the month, with only seven each in August and September by comparison.

While the numbers do not necessarily indicate an increase in sexual assaults — Clovis police, for instance, only took four reports of criminal sexual penetration in October, according to Lt. Jim Schoeffel — Hamilton said it does indicate more victims are seeking exams and medical care following assaults.

It is not unusual for there to be a difference in the number of rape cases police investigate versus SANE cases, because not all victims go to police, she said.

Adults who request a sexual assault exam by SANE nurses are not obligated to report to law enforcement, she said, but during the exam evidence is collected and preserved for one year in the event they change their mind and decide to report later.

“It is not uncommon for them to come in and have the exam, then two weeks later they really get frustrated and mad thinking about what happened to them and go ahead and report,” Hamilton said.

One trend examiners have seen growing is the drug and alcohol component in assaults, she said.

While some victims experience their assaults when they are under the influence by choice, she said victim’s urine and blood analysis are also showing more dangerous combinations of over-the-counter medications and alcohol that victims report they ingested unknowingly when it was given to them, losing chunks of memory.

“They will tell us, ‘I had some weird drink and I don’t remember the last eight hours,’” she said. “We’re seeing a lot of over-the-counter medications being used.”

SANE data shows an average of 10 exams per month through October in Curry County with a total of 99 year-to-date.

Clovis police, handling the highest volume of calls of the five agencies within the county, shows an average of three calls per month with a total of nine reports taken by officers for the same period.

Schoeffel said while police have not seen an upswing in rape reports, the difference could be tied to the fact victims can get an exam and not report a crime to police.

Hamilton said her agency is adding services to victims to fill gaps in existing coverage.

A victims’ advocate program is being launched where citizen volunteers will be trained and respond to scenes with law enforcement to provide support to victims, onsite mental health counseling is being offered, and support groups are being formed to help victims begin the healing process.

Hamilton said all services are free and counseling and support groups are open to all victims of sexual assault regardless of the time frame of the incident, out of recognition that there is no time frame on healing.

SANE serves Curry, Roosevelt, Quay, De Baca, Eddy and Lea counties as well as some west Texas communities.