STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — After a sexual assault, you should first find a safe place, then seek medical care.
Call 911 if you are in danger. Dispatchers can connect you to an advocate at Advocates of Routt County or to law enforcement.
You can also contact Advocates of Routt County’s 24-hour safe line at 970-879-8888 or email [email protected]. Advocates can also help you work through the medical, criminal and legal process after a sexual assault.
Once you’re safe, you should seek medical care for any injuries or medical issues.
Then, if you want to, you can obtain a forensic medical exam, in which a nurse who specializes in caring for sex assault survivors will examine your body for any injuries and can collect evidence that could help find or convict the perpetrator.
Currently, there are four forensic nurses in Routt County trained to conduct a forensic exam. All work at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs.
After a sexual assault, how can I report it?
If you’re an adult, there are three options to report a sex assault in Colorado, including an option to remain anonymous.
Before taking action to report, you can talk through your decision with a victim advocate to determine if and how you want to report what happened.
These reporting options all include undergoing a forensic medical exam to receive care and possibly collect evidence. Depending on how you decide to report, evidence collected in that exam might not be involved in an investigation. If you do consent to collecting evidence, at any time in the forensic exam you can opt out of certain steps, take breaks or stop the exam completely.
If you decide to report to law enforcement, you’ll also be able to change your mind and decide not to pursue an investigation or charges. However, if your forensic exam kit was tested and found to contain DNA that was found in another kit, your kit could move forward in someone else’s case within the criminal justice system, according to forensic nurse examiner Patty Oakland, who also coordinates the local forensic exam program.
If you’re younger than 18 or older than 69, medical providers are required to report sex assault to law enforcement or the Department of Human Services.
Report to law enforcement
In this option, a survivor reports the assault to law enforcement and starts the process of an investigation in the criminal justice system.
If you’re already at the hospital and you want to report to law enforcement, a forensic nurse will contact the appropriate detective, who will meet you at the hospital. If you choose to, you can conduct a full interview and give a full report. If you don’t want to conduct a full interview, you can answer some basic questions, such as a name and location of the assault, and wait a few days before giving more details to law enforcement.
“If you do a law enforcement report, you’re meeting everybody in this room, so when you walk out of those hospital doors, you’ve met everybody that you have to meet. … You’ve come forward, and you’ve met everybody,” Oakland said. “It’s not easy from there, but at least the biggest step is all taken right here in these doors.”
In a medical report, a survivor has several options after the medical exam. You can decide if you want to continue with the evidence collection portion of the exam, and whether or not you want to have that evidence processed or contact law enforcement.
Law enforcement will receive your kit with your name and contact information, but investigators won’t process the evidence or pursue an investigation unless you want to.
If you don’t want to talk to an officer when you make a medical report, you can decide later to have your kit processed or to have a detective begin an investigation. This means investigators can test evidence in your kit without law enforcement having interviewed you.
Law enforcement will hold onto the evidence collected in a forensic exam for two years, and at any time during that time, you can decide to file a report. After two years, unprocessed kits are disposed of.
An anonymous report is similar to a medical report, but when your kit is given to law enforcement, officers will only see a case number. Your name and contact information are withheld from law enforcement. Oakland will give you that case number and place it in your medical records should you lose it.
Evidence from your forensic exam will be stored for two years. You can decide to file a report at any time within that timeframe.
Paying for medical care and other expenses related to a sexual assault
The cost of the forensic exam is paid for by law enforcement or other state programs.
If you decide to report your sexual assault to law enforcement, law enforcement will cover the cost of the forensic exam. These programs might not pay for the medical care you could receive in the emergency room or lab work for things such as tests for sexually transmitted diseases, but if you’re concerned about paying for care, there are other resources to help you cover those costs.
A forensic nurse or an advocate can help you decide the best route to pay for that care, whether it’s state programs or your insurance.