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Cover Story July 22, 2004


 

by lyle e davis

by lyle e davis

 

It was all a blur . . . she doesn’t remember everything.  She remembers she was in an alley and some type of forcible sexual act took place,, a sexual assault on her . . . . then things faded out . . . and the next things she remembers is being in a house . . she went to the bathroom and vomited . . . then she was in a bed . . . and she was being sexually assaulted again . . . but she can’t remember the details.  Bits and pieces of blurry memory kept fading in and out . . . .

The girl above was 17 when all this happened a little over a year ago.  She was still in high school.  As so often happens, the news of her “sexcapade” spread around school the next few days and weeks and her life became rather difficult. Somehow, it became as though she had raped the guy!  As so often happens in sexual assault cases the victim is often blamed for having been attacked.

She had not requested this sexual attention, she was assaulted against her will, the rapist was a casual acquaintance, not well known to her at all.  There was never any question of intimacy between them . . . at least not in the traditional sense.  One has to stretch the imagination to even think of rape as an “intimate experience.”

Up until this time she had not been sexually active.  She was a virgin.  She had lost her virginity and it was not a pleasant nor romantic experience.

After the multiple sexual assaults she managed to find a couch where she finally fell into a fitful sleep.  The next morning she awakened at about 7am.   

She was in so much pain, it hurt to sit up straight.  She contacted her mom, a pediatric nurse, and told her the story.  Kind of.

 In fact, she lied to her mom. 

“I told my mom I had been staying overnight with a girl friend . . . I also told her I thought someone had spiked the punch . . .I had gotten dizzy and . . . . it happened.

 My mom called the cops and rushed me to Children’s Hospital.  We waited forever to be seen.  We were concerned about the long wait ‘cause mom knew that there was a time limit on how effective a forensic examination could be.  She wanted to make sure any evidence there was could be found and preserved.

 The cops took a statement and I lied to them as well.  I lied to the doctors, the police, the social worker . . . then the second time all the lies came apart and I told the truth.  I just wanted to get checked and get it over again.  My biggest fear was that this guy had gotten me pregnant. 

My mom found out I wasn’t staying at my girl friend’s home.  That’s when the truth came out.

We had gone to the mall, shopping.  My girl friend saw this friend and we decided to maybe go see a movie, or maybe just hang out.  We wound up going to his house.  He invited a few friends over and we were going to have ‘a small party.’  There was alcohol there and I drank a lot of it.  There was grass (marijuana) and I smoked a lot of weed.  I suppose I was ‘testing the limits.’  I had been caught partying by my mom before so I wasn’t anxious to be caught again.   

Somewhere along the line, it must have been around 11pm, is when I vaguely remember being attacked in the alley.  All the rest of it is just a blur.  I wish it had never happened, but it did.  And I can’t undo it.”

“They discovered that the guy knew what he was doing.  He used a condom, so there was no DNA to recover.  They found a laceration of 2 centimeters on my perineum.  The guy said that was a result of ‘heavy petting.’  The police had questioned the guy, but they didn’t arrest him.  I was 17, he was 19.  If there is a four year difference it’s a mandatory statutory rape charge . . . but there were only two years difference in our ages.  I guess the cops figured they didn’t have enough evidence to book  the guy.”

 She spent the better part of a whole day, from 10am to 3pm at Children’s Hospital.  She was then referred to SART.

 

SART

Sexual Assault Response Team

 

Diana Faugno is a registered nurse who heads up the SART unit in Escondido, where most of the patients are referred following a rape.  Faugno, a long time Escondido resident, is the Director of Pediatrics Neonatal and Forensic Health Services, which includes SART and the Child Abuse Program.


Diana Faugno, Director,
Forensic Health Services

 She was at the clinic when the girl arrived.

 The unit is spotless, all of the latest medical equipment, laboratory facilities and, most of all, a staff that is caring and compassionate and who understand that what a victim/patient needs at this point is understanding and gentle treatment to help her not only recover from her trauma, but also to provide the necessary information to find the person responsible for the rape and, where possible, to prosecute him.

 “Diana was really nice,” the girl said.  “SART was a really cool thing.”

 “I walked in there and they couldn’t have been nicer.  I had to do a lot of things.  They had to take a nude photo of me against a blue screen.  This was to photograph any and all injuries to my body . . . the photo would show the bruises.  They would also do close-ups of my genital area, to document any cuts or bruises there.  They also did fingernail scrapings, so if I had scratched the guy during the assault, they might be able to recover DNA from those scrapings.  They took my old underwear and gave me fresh underwear.  They had me give a urinalysis sample.  They prepared a chart and made notations as to where on my anatomy there were any bruises; this would later be compared to the photos, if and when it went to court.  They had me point to the chart as to “where he touched me,” and “where it hurt.”

 After the examination was over, they gave me a beautiful Teddy Bear.  I still have that and it means a lot to me. 

I was then allowed to shower and change into clean clothes.  I was given a lovely overnight kit and then I was finally finished.  The whole procedure had lasted about two hours, from 4pm to about 6:30pm.

 It was a major feeling of relief. 

In addition to the major emotional and physical trauma I went through from having been raped, I also had a big time emotional problem from having lost the trust of my mom, my dad, and, to a lesser extent, my 15 year old sister.  Things are better now.  I’m pretty close to my mom and I think the trust is back.  My dad, who is separated from my mom, remains somewhat distant . . .my sister, well, she just does her own thing.”

 Diana Faugno:  “I was working with the Child Abuse Program when it was proposed that we should begin a SART program back in 1990.  It was just a natural progression for me to get involved in that program as well.

Since then, we have served most of North San Diego County.  That includes Camp Pendleton, Julian, Ramona, Fallbrook, Oceanside, Vista, Escondido, San Marcos, Valley Center.  We see victims from all of these communities. 

Our role is to not only receive the victim in a compassionate and quiet, professional environment, but we also have to provide a written report on the evidentiary exam we conduct.  This report goes to the law enforcement agency that requested and approved the examination.  They then conduct their own investigation and refer to the District Attorney’s office. 

 Kate Flaherty is the Deputy District Attorney that determines whether to seek prosecution, assigns cases and prosecutes them as well.”

 “Statistically, rape is one of the most under-reported crimes we are aware of.  This is due to a lot of factors.  There is still the stigma of having been raped . . . there is the fear of retribution . . . there is the feeling by the victim that maybe she contributed to the rape, particularly if there was alcohol or drugs involved.  We don’t buy that argument.  No woman has a tattoo on her forehead that says . . . “please rape me!”  Often, the person committing a rape is well known to the victim.  It could be a family member, a friend, or a significant other. There are many reasons why a rape will go unreported.  But, we are here for those who need us.  If they need medical attention, if they need counseling, if they need protection by law enforcement, we can either offer all of this, or coordinate it and see that it gets done.  We have a very effective follow-up program with our clients.”

 Editor’s Note:  There is more abuse that occurs than one would imagine.  There are multiple levels of abuse.  There is domestic violence, substance abuse, and child abuse within the home. 

 Kaiser Permanente published a study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine in 1998 regarding the findings of a survey that 15,000 adult patients of Kaiser Healthcare responded to. In the study, more than half of the respondents reported at least one incident of exposure to what was defined as an adverse childhood experience (ACE). The study demonstrated a clear link between exposure to abuse or household dysfunction (ACE) and multiple risk factors for several of the leading causes of death in adults including smoking, alcoholism and obesity.  Further, studies show that a contributing factor toward obesity is intentional obesity as a means of making oneself less attractive to members of the opposite sex, thus less likely to attract a sexual assault.

 Diana Faugno:  “The SART program started at Pomerado Hospital.  It was the first program of that type in Southern California.  Actually, the SART program based here in Escondido is largely due to the vision of Dianna Pitcher, a detective with the Escondido Police Department.  She works the CAP (Child Abuse Program) and was impressed with the success they had with the team approach.  She suggested that a similar approach would work well with Sexual Assault crimes.  Thus the SART unit for Escondido was born.

Dianna Pitcher:  Up to 1990  victims had to be taken to Palomar Hospital Emergency Room.  There was no privacy, the victims were in a waiting room.  The Triage Evaluation meant that if the victim’s injuries were not life threatening then she would wait as much as four or five hours before being seen.  The ER doctors and nurses weren’t trained to treat sexual victims.  The exams were not state of the art in the sense of preserving evidence for trial, the statements weren’t always as helpful as they could be.  I just thought,  “Why don’t we have a special unit here for sexual assault victims.  Pomerado Hospital had a SART unit but if they were swamped they’d refer victims to Palomar’s ER.  That meant that officers then had to drive to Palomar.  It was not a user friendly system at that time.  So, a whole new concept was developed.  Diana Faugno came up with procdures and concept.  We soon began using SAFE (Sexual Assault Evaluation Center) at 121 N. Fig,  in Escondido.  We had specialty trained nurse examiners - who can serve as expert witnesses in court; advocates, who stay with them, we arrange for counseling, privacy, and quick treatment. 

 I’m still working in CAP; we deal with all sex crimes, children, adults, and an elder abuse unit. (Pitcher is due to retire in about a year).

 


Escondido Detective Dianna Pitcher, heads up the CAP unit.

 

Diana Faugno:  Once we got our own SART unit started in Escondido, our nurses would go to other areas throughout California and train them in the techniques.  The program has grown substantially since its beginning.  It has been well and widely received by the victims as well as law enforcement agencies, district attorneys.  It’s just a positive program that deals with a very negative problem.

We do go to law enforcement agencies and offer training, when requested.  They also have developed in house training for their officers.”

Editor’s Note:  Several areas of information were surprising to us.  We learned, for example, that the largest number of incidents involving sexual abuse involve kids . . . children under the age of 14.  In any given month, if there are 50 sexual abuse cases, 30 of them will be children under the age of 14.  20 will be for ‘adults.’  At SART an adult is rated as 14 years of age and older.  The bulk of the cases reported here are adolescents . . . the early to mid teens. 

Particularly with the smaller children sexual abuse tends to be more in the nature of molestation.  Touching and rubbing of intimate parts rather than penetration, either digital or penile.  The problem looms larger because the young children don’t always know that what is happening is not appropriate.  Usually, the offender is someone known to the child and or the family and has access to the victim.  Being a trusted member of the family circle often causes an unawareness of the fact that the acts being committed are inappropriate.

 Diana Faugno:  We enjoy the strong support of the County Board of Supervisors.  Supervisor Slater has been a strong supporter of ours, but the entire board realizes how important it is to support a program such as ours.  And Supervisor Bill Horn has long been a supporter.  And of course, Dianna Pitcher, with the Escondido Police Department.  She’s about ready to retire now, but she deserves a lot of credit for suggesting this idea and following it through.  Following her suggestion, we put the program together.  Then, in August of 1991, the County Board of Supervisors gave its official blessing and the program began to grow even more rapidly.

Simply stated, the mission of the Palomar-Pomerado Health Forensic Health Services, which includes the SART program is: 

On a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week basis, to improve the provision of services to victims of sexual assault in San Diego by providing sensitive, efficient, interdisciplinary services, and to ensure accurate evidence collection to promote the apprehension and prosecutions of perpetrators. 

The team includes Physicians, Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners, Child Interview Specialists, Victim Advocates, and multi-disciplinary investigative teams of community agencies.

SART has provided for more privacy.  Victims of sexual assault are now separated from the Emergency Department for medical-legal examinations.  The waiting rooms and examination rooms are separate from each other. 

To date, over 3000 examinations have been conducted by SART units for sexual assault. In the year 2001 alone, over 830 women were reported raped in the San Diego area, averaging out to more than two rapes being reported per day.  Many more go unreported for reasons mentioned earlier. 

Indicative of the success the SART program has had from a victim’s viewpoint, here are some comments from victims: 

•  “I received swift, appropriate response from the time I called 911 to the time that I was released.  Everyone involved did an excellent job of making me feel safe and treated well.  Thank you!”

 •  Written about the police officer:  “To be so young, he was extremely courteous and considerate while he obtained the necessary info from me.  I felt both safe and like I could tell him the necessary embarrassing details.  He followed me home at 3 in the morning and made sure my house was safe.”

 • “The detectives who were there with me were two of the best people I’ve ever come across.  They made the whole thing a lot easier.”

 •  “The RN could not have been any kinder and compassionate.  She explained everything in advance and completely.  She did everything possible to put me at ease in the most difficult situation of my life.” 

Studies Show . . .

Boiling the statistical studies down to a composite picture we can expect to find the the ages of 15 to 17 is the most prevalent age at which evidentiary exams are conducted at SART clinics; exam rates for black females 18 years and older were over twice the white rate.  The Hispanic female examination rate was 31.5 per 100,000 for female residents, 18 years and older.  At Palomar-Pomerado Hospitals, however, 67% of the victims were White, 22% Hispanic, 8% Asian and other, and only 4% were Black.

In 77% of adult/adolescent evidentiary examinations, positive visible physical findings were identified. 

The time of sexual assault is well established as generally being between 6pm and 6am with the peak time being at 3am. 

Within the county, 47% of adult exams are ordered by the

San Diego City Police Department, 20% by the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, 9% by Oceanside Police Depart-ment, 5% by Escondido Police Department, 4% by Chula Vista P. D and the same for El Cajon P.D. 

(All statistics from the San Diego County Report on SART units for 2001).

 If A Rape Occurs . .  .

•  Call 911 immediately.

•  Preserve all physical evidence.

• Seek further physical and emotional help as needed.

•  Remember, the assault was NOT the survivor’s fault.

 Almost all of the services are without cost to the individual.  If requested by a law enforcement agency, there is no fee to the victim.

A Speaker’s Bureau is available to speak to groups such as Kiwanis, Rotary, Lions Club, etc.  If you would like someone to speak to your group, please contact Diana Faugno at 760.739.3444, or email her at: dkf@pph.org . If you’d like Detective Dianna Pitcher to speak to your group, call her at 760.839.4745.