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Hancock County launches new team to investigate and prosecute sexual assault cases

Sexual Assault Response Teams required by law
Hancock County is launching a plan to help survivors of sexual assault and to better prosecute offenders.
Posted at 4:18 PM, Jan 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-03 18:29:33-05

HANCOCK COUNTY— Hancock County is launching a plan to help survivors of sexual assault and to better prosecute offenders.

They’ve created a new Sexual Assault Response Team, or SART, which is comprised of police, prosecutors, victim advocates and medical professionals.

Despite a law passed in 2007 requiring counties to participate in a county or regional SART, only half of Indiana counties are actually participating.

Hancock County’s Sexual Assault Response Team has been neglected, and from 2006 to 2016, the prosecutor’s office did not get a single conviction for rape.

Chief Deputy Prosecutor Aimee Herring is trying to change that.

“They aren’t seeing these rapists being held accountable, they aren’t seeing anything in their community showing victims are believed,” Herring said. “They aren’t seeing they’re being treated with dignity and respect. Unfortunately, in Hancock County that has been a systemic failure across the board.”

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FILE PHOTO: Hancock County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Aimee Herring

Herring joined Hancock County in 2020 and one of her goals is to revive Hancock County’s SART.

She brings experience from St. Joseph County which she says has a robust Sexual Assault Response Team.

"We saw the results of a well-oiled machine and this multi-disciplinary team that worked well together,” Herring said. “When I came down to Hancock County it was clear there was a lot of room for improvement."

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FILE PHOTO: Hancock County Prosecutor's Office

Prosecutor Brent Eaton, who took office in 2015, says a SART will make a big difference in terms of public safety.

“This is a massive step forward to holding offenders accountable and to protect the public,” Eaton said. “This will allow us to receive more and better evidence."

The county will collect more and better evidence because they’re adding 12 nurses who specialize in sexual assault examinations.

Right now, Hancock County has zero Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners or SANEs.

That means survivors have to travel to other counties to get a forensic medical examination performed by a nurse trained in sexual assault.

Kelly Buzan, a survivor advocate with Alternatives Inc. in Anderson, said she’s had to bring Hancock County survivors to the hospital in Anderson just to get an exam.

"By the time the survivor makes the decision to go have an exam, then they’re told you have to travel 40 minutes,” Buzan said. “Sometimes they won't. I said follow me to the hospital and they didn't follow me."

A total of 11 agencies are involved in Hancock County’s sexual assault response team.

Police departments across Hancock County are following the same protocol for sexual assault investigations.

Greenfield Police Department Chief Brian Hartman said all police officers have a copy of it.

“They now have this protocol to follow and it's just their guidebook of what to do,” Hartman said. "Before it was one or two investigators looking at it. Now you have a whole team who is involved in this one case. Now if there's a problem, you know who is next in line so you can bounce ideas around to make sure the best outcome comes out at least."

Police officers in Hancock County have also received training on trauma and how that can impact a survivor.

Hartman hopes their investigations help the Hancock County prosecutor’s office get justice for survivors of sexual assault.

“Now with this protocol and all the boxes being checked, prosecutors know when they get the case none of the boxes have been missed,” Hartman said.

About 60% of sexual assaults go unreported.

Hancock County leaders hope by launching this new plan, it encourages survivors to come forward and know they will be supported.

“We know victims deserve better and we are trying to do right by them,” Herring said.

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FILE PHOTO: Hancock County Courthouse

The prosecutor’s office is hoping that better cooperation from victims and more complete police investigations will lead to more prosecutions for sexual assault crimes.

From 2019 to 2021, the prosecutor’s office nearly doubled the number of adult sex crimes charged.

They anticipate with the new Sexual Assault Response Team, those numbers will increase even more.

"We've got tough cases to try, and we are going to be trying them,” Herring said. “The message in Hancock County needs to be if you engage in this behavior, you need to be held accountable."

STATISTICS FROM THE IN COALITION TO END SEXUAL ASSAULT AND HUMAN TRAFFICKING

  • One in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives.
  • 46.4% lesbians, 74.9 bisexual women and 43.3% heterosexual women reported sexual violence other than rape during their lifetimes, while 40.2% gay men, 47.4% bisexual men and 20.8% heterosexual men reported sexual violence other than rape during their lifetimes.
  • 8% of rapes occur while the victim is at work.
  • In eight out of 10 cases of rape, the victim knew the person who sexually assaulted them.
  • Nearly one in 10 women has been raped by an intimate partner in her lifetime. Approximately one in 45 men has been made to penetrate an intimate partner during his lifetime.
  • People with disabilities are sexually assaulted at nearly three times the rate of people without disabilities.
  • 50% of transgender people have experienced sexual violence.
  • There has been close to a 50% increase in the number of human trafficking identified situations between 2015 and 2019 for a total of 63,380. The situations may involve more than one victim or survivor.

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