DALLAS (CBS11) - Violent crime is up in Dallas and that includes sexual assaults.
Police have acknowledged the spike. But, say there is more to the story: they're seeing more victims come forward after fear and shame initially kept them silent. The rapes are counted in statistics as recent assaults, regardless of when they occurred.
Meanwhile, local rape victim advocates hope the uptick in sexual assault reports signals a subtle culture shift that rejects that stigma of rape. It's a change, experts say, that's long overdue—and they're crediting everything from better policing to more sensitive medical care for victims.
"We give them back their power," says Texas Health Presbyterian Dallas nurse, Julie Jeter. "They come in, they're defeated. They feel like their power has been taken from them."
So what happens over the next few hours is carefully designed to help them get it back. Nurse Julie Jeter has spent two decades working in everything from neonatal care to radiology. But, the veteran nurse has a special heart for the survivors of rape. So, she's undergone specialized training to become 'SANE' a certified Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner.
"I mean, we may get victims 3 days later, 4 days later… and they're just saying: I wasn't going to come. I wasn't going to come…they are having to relive this when they come see us and that's very difficult," says Jeter.
But, Jeter insists the process has been made more bearable because of the investment that hospitals like Texas Health Presbyterian have made in meeting rape victims' unique needs. For example: the hospital has added a specialized, secured suite so survivors can have privacy and feel safe while undergoing the intrusive examination. A comfortable waiting room has the feel of a homey family room: soft lighting, a television and play area with toys for the kids.
Local rape victim support groups provide toiletries and clothes so victims can shower after the exam. Often their clothing is needed for evidence.
And the specialized nurses say they want to correct some commonly held misperceptions about how long evidence of an assault may be present.
"We can see them up to 120 hours later," says Jeter. "It's fine if they've taken a shower. Obviously the sooner that they come in the better, but that certainly doesn't rule out our ability to get evidence."
And the meticulous work of the nurses turned detectives is paying off in convictions. Remember the Lake Highlands assaults? Three of the victims sought care at Texas Health Presbyterian Dallas.
"Based on the evidence they [SANE nurses ] collected, they were able to catch him," says Jeter.
And every rapist convicted makes the community safer—and it all starts with the courage of victims.
"It amazes me," says Jeter. "I hug them and just say `thank you…I thank you for coming in. You could potentially be stopping someone from doing this to someone else'."
Every case closed reminds the nurses that once upon a time, 'rape' was the crime that convicted the victim. And sexual assault is still, experts say, woefully under reported. But, thanks to decades of education and outreach, experts say survivors are slowly stepping out of the shadows.
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