A new, collaborative effort designed to assist with handling sexual assaults in Sampson County, and also to assist with educating the public about sexual assault, has been formed, giving access to available resources and educating people on where to turn.
Before, those in Sampson County who experienced sexual violence did not have a network for support beyond law enforcement and the hospital. Now, the newly formed team is joining forces to support victims of rape and sexual assault locally.
The Sampson County Sexual Assault Response Team, or SCSART, is comprised of 22 members who come to the table with myriad experience through their jobs with law enforcement, the local hospital, as counselors and advocates, as prosecuting attorneys, educators and social workers.
Elaine Hunt with the City of Clinton and Sharon Usher of Sampson Regional Medical Center are among those who have joined forces on the team that promises to educate the the county about sexual assault.
The primary goal of the team is to focus on the reaction side of the spectrum by responding to any known or reported sexual assaults.
“In times past it was law enforcement and the hospital, and that’s it,” said Elwood McPhail of U Care, Inc., and a member of the team. The victims are brought into the emergency room, where they will now come into contact with a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (S.A.N.E.) .Sharon Usher, hospital representative from SRMC, is working with the team as a hospital liaison.
Yet beyond that primary focus is the education of the community and students, which is where members like Terrace Miller of Clinton City Schools come into play.
“We need to educate the community and service providers to be pro-active to eliminate (sexual assault) before they happen,” said McPhail in a group interview.
“The concept of the SART team is to get everyone together to learn about each other in individual agencies,” added McPhail. The team is going to help lower automatic defensive attitudes in agencies in order to pull everyone together and get them on the same page.
The team has been spending their first year on training despite limited resources, tapping into the do more with less mantra that so many groups are facing. During this first year they have learned about each other and the uniqueness of each agency.
Limited information, like who does what, and how those people are reached, has impacted the community by not giving enough organization to provide victims information and services.
“Before there was no one for (victims) to talk to afterwards,” explained Usher. “We had no one trained to do it, and the only resource we had were patient advocates.” Previously there was no one trained on how to respond to these situations, and often the hospital would have to try to find someone to be with a patient, like a CNA.
“They had to use their own internal resources,” added McPhail. Resources like U Care, Inc., he said, can help in these situations, but were unknown to the hospital before.
“We had to no idea that was available to us,” Usher said.
Now education will be coming to schools, giving students information that they need.
Miller said that education plays a crucial role in getting information out to those who need it most.
“This is about hearing about what is offered, and it is giving us key pieces to educate the community,” detailed Miller. “Before, rape victims didn’t know who to turn to other than law enforcement. We want to educate and get (victims) assistance.”
Education about abuse signs that could lead to sexual assault may prevent it from happening, the group noted.
“Getting agencies together can open doors to talk to local (services),” McPhail said. “We each have contacts, like churches and committees, and this lets us use each other and each other’s talents”
“The education side is not part of the core SART team, but it is a necessary part,” McPhail explained. “We have city schools, county schools, and college representatives on this team.”
On the youth side of the equation, prevention is key: students face dating violence, bullying, sexual assault, and rape which are all parts of a larger problem. Representatives with Child Protective Services are also part of the team for this reason, said McPhail.
“This stuff is going on in the community and within families, and it’s not talked about,” expressed McPhail. “It breeds as it continues and becomes generational.”
This lead into the action plan and mission statement of the team, which has goals both to educate the community and students in schools.
Miller feels that students need to be aware of the consequences of assault. They need to understand that just because they are young does not mean they are exempt from having to deal with the repercussions of their actions. The team feels that making ways to educate within the schools helps to create change and, hopefully, reduce and eliminate lots of heartache for families.
“We will be available to ministerial groups as well, let them know who to call and refer to with questions,” informed Miller. “We have to start educating the community.” It’s not just about victims stepping forward, sometimes it’s the family.
“We want them to know what they can do (to help),” interjected McPhail.
“We need to eliminate the stigma placed on victims, and tell them ‘it’s not your fault’,” Miller offered. “Plus we need to help the community (understand) as well.” Too often, the group said, people take on that “she was asking for it” attitude
Society is complacent, and people often allow things to happen because of that complacency, Usher stressed.
“If you grew up seeing that, someone slapping momma around, that’s not normal or acceptable,” said Miller. “It keeps continuing.” The team hopes to eliminate it through education.
“We want to change the norms, so people will expect a happy relationship,” added McPhail.
Part of it is getting some of the “you will obey” attitude out of churches in the community. The group agreed that partners need to view each other as helpmates, and realize if they really love each other they will never raise a hand to each other. Getting that it’s my way or the highway attitude out of relationships is important.
“Men think ‘You’re my wife, I can’t rape you,” McPhail said. “And that is far from the truth”
The SCSART is planning community training so that educational side is brought out to the community. Their plans include bringing in resource providers who are not on the team to train, give resources, contacts and other materials that they might can use.
Their hopes are that this training will lead to companies changing policies, with a goal to positively impact those who work and live in Sampson County.
“This is one of those subjects no one wants to talk about until it’s their child, wife or mother,” McPhail stated emphatically. “By not talking about it we are allowing it to breed and grow.”
Emily M. Hobbs can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 122 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.