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Law enforcement and victim support organizations to receive training on science of trauma 

Reporting a sexual assault or rape to police is a difficult step for any victim to take. And for those who do decide to walk down the path of justice, the detectives, prosecutors, and other officials they meet along the way have the ability to make them feel believed and supported, or doubted and demoralized.

Law enforcement agencies and victim service groups throughout San Luis Obispo County are hoping to improve on this experience for survivors of sexual assault. On May 29 at Cuesta College, more than 150 individuals from multiple SLO County departments and organizations will convene for a daylong training about the science of trauma and the best ways to approach and support victims.

click to enlarge START BY BELIEVING More than 150 individuals from local law enforcement agencies, victim support organizations, and other groups will join forces on May 29 for a one-day training on how to best support victims of sexual assault. - PHOTO COURTESY OF RISE SLO
  • Photo Courtesy of Rise SLO
  • START BY BELIEVING More than 150 individuals from local law enforcement agencies, victim support organizations, and other groups will join forces on May 29 for a one-day training on how to best support victims of sexual assault.

"It's critical," said Susan Lamont, client services director at nonprofit RISE SLO, "because if we have a survivor who's interested in pursuing justice through the law enforcement system, they need to be respected and believed, first and foremost."

Hosted by the San Luis Obispo Suspected Abuse Response Team Advisory Board, in partnership with RISE, the SLO Police Department, Cal Poly Police Department, and the SLO County Sheriff's and District Attorney's offices, the training will highlight best practices in sexual assault response and investigation—including alternative reporting options for survivors, an "opening doors" model of services, and the "start by believing" philosophy, according to RISE.

Leading the training is Carlton Hershman, a retired San Diego Police detective who implemented a Sex Crimes Cold Case Unit during his career, and Dr. Kimberly Lonsway, a founding board member of End Violence Against Women International.

The day will be split into morning and afternoon sessions that have different focuses.

"We do the neurobiology of trauma and victim interviews in the morning," Lamont told New Times, "and in the afternoon we break into groups."

In the small groups, participants will be exposed to real past cases of rape and sexual assault, where they will work together to investigate the incidents and then discuss the methods and approaches used.

One of the takeaways from the training, according to Mark Haley, a physician's assistant at the Cal Poly Health Center and RISE volunteer, is building a stronger relationship, trust, and understanding between victim advocates and law enforcement agents.

"Both sides can hear and see that in the end, they want the same thing," Haley said.

The training comes as reporting of both sexual assaults and rapes is on the rise. In 2018, the SLO Police Department saw reports spike 41 percent over the year prior. At Cal Poly, crimes of sexual assault or misconduct almost doubled in 2017 compared to 2015, increasing from 20 to 37 cases, according to the university's Clery Act report.

As victims feel more empowered to come forward and report crimes, Haley noted that it's becoming especially important for law enforcement to handle those cases appropriately and sensitively.

"I would say it's crucial," he said, "because the better experience a survivor has, in the end they'll be in a better place psychologically and they'll be more empowered to make a decision themselves to pursue the case. In general, the more power you give the survivor, the more likely they'll reach a good outcome for themselves."

Fast facts

RISE SLO Executive Director Jennifer Adams has announced her retirement from a 20-year career in the gender-based violence field. She'll stay with RISE through June 28. "It has been an honor and a privilege to serve the community through my work with RISE," Adams said in a press release. "The courage and resilience of survivors will continue to inspire me, wherever my path leads." Adams started her career with the Rape Crisis Center of SLO County in 1999. In 2013, she led a dual agency merger resulting in today's RISE SLO. With Adams at the helm, RISE nearly doubled in size, added programs, and increased funding and staff. Associate Director Jane Pomeroy will serve as interim director during the transition time.

• U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara) co-introduced a resolution in Congress on May 14 to designate July as American Grown Flower Month, encouraging consumers to buy domestically grown flowers. Today, American consumers buy just 20 percent of their flowers from U.S. growers. "I have seen firsthand the value the grown flower industry adds to our economy and communities," Carbajal said in a statement. "I am committed to recognizing their contribution." Δ

Assistant Editor Peter Johnson wrote this week's Strokes and Plugs. Send tidbits to strokes@newtimesslo.com.

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