Specialized training held in Waynesville

Town selected as one of 14 sites for sexual assault training to law enforcement
By Kim Gardner | Dec 14, 2012
Photo by: Donated photo IN-DEPTH TRAINING  — Trainers from the Oregon Sexual Assault Task Force recently travelled to Haywood County to provide sexual assault investigation training to area law enforcement, social workers and advocates. From left, are training coordinator Jenna Harper, Det. Carrie Hull and Deputy Chief Steve Bellshaw.

Some law enforcement officers are now better equipped to investigate sexual assaults, thanks to a grant that paid for specialized training.

The 30th Judicial District Domestic Violence-Sexual Assault Alliance applied for, and received, a grant to participate in the Law Enforcement Training and Capacity Building Project. The project brought trainers from the Oregon Sexual Assault Task Force to Waynesville recently, providing in-depth training to 52 law enforcement officers, Department of Social Services workers and victim advocates from Western North Carolina.

Waynesville is the fourth of 14 sites across the country to host this specialized training during a three-year period. Haywood County is an Office on Violence Against Women arrest grantee, through the Alliance, making it eligible to apply for the grant. The Alliance applied for and received the grant.

“We offered it to the entire region so we can better serve the victims of sexual assault, from children to adults,” said Det. Jeff Haynes, with the Waynesville Police Department. “This is an asset to our community because it helps us provide better services, better prosecutions and better investigation techniques.”

Waynesville Police Department took the lead in making the training happen in Waynesville.

In Haywood County, there is an average of 10 sexual assault investigations each month. This number covers victims from child to adult, and includes child molestation and rape. Less than 1 percent of investigations are of assaults by stranger. Victims typically know their assailant, Haynes said.

Since most sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows, many are hesitant to report the crime. Sexual assault is the No. 1 underreported crime in the United States, according to trainer Jenna Harper.

“We all share a picture of the stereotypical rape scene,” Harper said, describing that the stereotypical view is the assailant being a creepy stranger and the crime occurring in a dark alley or other desolate place. “We need to get past the stereotypes to successfully investigate.”

And dispelling those stereotypes is something Det. James Marsh is excited about coming out of the training.

“We gleaned some valuable insights into how we can educate the community about the true face of rape and to shatter some of the myths our culture has developed about this devastating and violent crime,” said Marsh, a detective with the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office. “We truly can challenge people to introspection and get them to think about what rape really looks like and how it impacts the quality of life in our families and in our community.”

Russ Conner, an investigator for the District Attorney’s Office, said the training is the best he has attended in his 20 years of investigation work in both the DA’s office and as a law enforcement officer.

“(This training) changes attitudes and I love that it’s doing that. It’s the police, prosecution and jury getting on board,” Conner said.

Marsh agrees.

“The training was dynamic and challenging to me as a detective with the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office and refreshed in me the passion that I have for serving those who have had their lives turned upside down by a sexual assault,” Marsh said. “One of the most valuable things about the training was the satisfaction and confidence that comes in realizing that the professionals across Haywood County that provide advocacy, counseling and justice to victims of sexual assault have been doing a lot of things right all along. The level of cooperation among the various disciplines providing these services in our county is second to none.”

Although the trainers from Oregon are gone, training on sexual assault investigations will continue in Western North Carolina. Part of the grant included a training the trainer session. Seven were trained to continue to provide this valuable information to law enforcement across the region.

The 30th Judicial District Domestic Violence-Sexual Assault Alliance is an award-winning, innovative, nonprofit program serving the 30th Judicial District which includes the seven western most counties of North Carolina: Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain.

Founded in 1998, the Alliance is a coalition of local and regional agencies serving victims of domestic violence, dating violence, stalking and sexual assault. Alliance members include: domestic violence-sexual assault agencies, regional mental health providers, legal aid services, the office of the district attorney and law enforcement.

The mission of the Alliance is to enhance the capacity of communities to respond effectively to incidents of domestic violence, dating violence, stalking and sexual assault, centering on victim safety and holding abusers accountable.

Kim Gardner is Elder SAFE Program Coordinator, 30th Judicial District Domestic Violence-Sexual Assault Alliance.

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