Panelists See Improvements For Sexual Assault Survivors
The final episode of WFAE's podcast She Says is out this week, wrapping up — for now — the story of a woman seeking justice after a sexual assault three years ago. Panelists at a WFAE forum last night on the topic agreed that survivors have a difficult road. But they say the system is improving.
She Says raises questions not only about one woman's case but also about how the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department handles sexual assaults and treats survivors. During the public conversation, "Beyond She Says: Sexual Assault in Charlotte," CMPD Deputy Chief Katrina Graue acknowledged that victims don't have an easy time.
But it's gotten better, Graue said. For example, it once took up to 20 months to process rape kits taken after assaults.
“But we have significantly reduced the amount of time that a victim is waiting for lab results,” Graue said. “Most recently we evaluated the amount of time that it takes, from January of 2016 to present, the kits that we have in the lab, and on average it's 39 days.”
That was an issue in Linda's case. Linda was the survivor profiled in the podcast hosted by reporter Sarah Delia. Another issue was Linda’s feeling that CMPD detectives did not believe her story. Graue said CMPD is using Linda's experience as a trigger for improvements.
“Just an opportunity to hear from someone who had experienced this personally, and to be able to go back to our unit, and develop additional training, to have further conversations to say, ‘This is the way the words that you said were perceived by the victim or the survivor,’ ” Graue said.
CMPD isn't the only department where the treatment of sexual assault cases is changing, said another panelist, Lt. John Somerindyke of Fayetteville Police Department.
“You know, up until the recent past, and I think I can probably speak for a lot of law enforcement nationwide, we didn't do that great a job with how we treated victims,” Somerindyke said. “I didn't know what victim-centered meant until we got the sexual assault kit initiative grant just three years ago.”
During a Q&A after the discussion, Mecklenburg County District Attorney Spencer Merriweather said the system needs to balance the rights of suspects with compassion for those who have been assaulted.
“We certainly hope that the survivor isn't the person who has to do all the fighting by herself,” Merriweather said. “But it does take fighters within the system to get that justice. But we do believe that justice can be served.”
For example, said Merriweather, one recent rule change says survivors can no longer be badgered with questions about their sexual history.
One person in the crowd said he thinks the problem of sexual assault needs to start with prevention. That brought this response from Somerindyke:
“Why don't we teach the young men in our life, our sons, our cousins, our nephews, not to rape women, not to beat on women," Somerindyke said. "Let's be role models for the young men in our lives."
A woman named Alex brought up the question of what to call someone who has been sexually assaulted.
“I just wanted to say that words are very powerful and that one way that CMPD can actively show empathy for people that have been through this kind of trauma is to refer to them as survivors — not victims,” she said, drawing applause.
The public conversation will air again Monday at 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Charlotte Talks.
MORE ABOUT “SHE SAYS”
She Says is WFAE's first investigative podcast. It cracked the top 200 in the iTunes podcast rankings and has reached a national and international audience, with more than 100,000 downloads.
You can listen to all 10 episodes of She Says at WFAE.org/shesays or wherever you listen to podcasts.