New South County facility helps ease pain of sexual assault

Linda Richards, coordinator of the Sexual Assault Response Team

Since October, five local victims of sexual assault have been
spared the painful journey up to San Jose, making the first step of
the long recovery process that much easier.
Since October, five local victims of sexual assault have been spared the painful journey up to San Jose, making the first step of the long recovery process that much easier.

A new facility at the South Valley Medical Center allows members of the county’s Sexual Assault Response Team to gather locally to respond to a victim’s needs. Before, victims in San Benito and southern Santa Clara counties had to travel to the Valley Medical Center campus in San Jose in the back of a police car, adding hours to an already harrowing experience.

“An hour must seem like an eternity in that moment,” said Linda Richards, a registered nurse and program manager for the county’s SART. “Being able to stay in their own community, not having that long drive and being in familiar surroundings is a very positive thing in a time that’s not very positive.”

The center works because of the combined efforts of two on-call nurse examiners who live in South County, staff at Community Solutions – a nonprofit with offices in Gilroy and Morgan Hill that works to prevent and counsel victims of rape and domestic violence, among other crimes – local law enforcement and the South Valley Medical Center, Richards said.

“It was great to see a community coming together to make this happen,” Richards said.

When police learn a sexual assault occurred, they conduct an initial interview to determine what took place, Richards said. After that, victims are taken to the Gilroy clinic – near the intersection of Camino Arroyo and Gilman Road – where they meet with an advocate from Community Solutions and the nurse examiner, receive counseling, and undergo an extensive physical exam and interviews.

“We do a pretty extensive and invasive interview,” Richards said. “We ask very specific details about what happened. We need to know what we’re working with.”

Victims younger than 12 are still taken to San Jose to be seen by a pediatric SART. The exam takes an average of about three hours, Richards said. A trip from Hollister could tack another two hours onto the experience.

“Our main focus is making the process a little more bearable for the victim,” said Perla Flores, program director for domestic violence and sexual assault services at Community Solutions.

Victims are assessed for any medical needs and may receive emergency contraception and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. The physical exam also allows the nurses to collect evidence to turn over to police. Medical care, however, “takes precedence over forensics,” Richards said. “The victims are not just a walking crime scene. They are patients. We’re trying the very best we can to minimize the discomfort of the patient.”

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