“It is certainly the community’s protocol,” said Heidi Prentiss, who works at Albemarle Hopeline and facilitates what’s known as the sexual assault response team for Pasquotank and Camden counties.
“I don’t know in my lifetime that we’ll see an end to sexual violence, but certainly that’s a lofty goal for all of us,” Prentiss said in brief remarks during the signing ceremony at the Pasquotank County Public Safety Building.
The genesis to developing the protocol can be traced back to an Enhancing Rural Strategies Grant that Hopeline received from the U.S. Justice Department. Besides funding Prentiss’ position, the grant helped create the sexual assault response team that first began meeting in 2012 to streamline the process for eliciting information from sexual assault victims.
“It makes the victim’s needs a priority, it holds offenders accountable and it also promotes public safety,” Prentiss said of the team’s purpose.
In March 2014, a subcommittee of the response team began meeting to prepare a protocol for the best practices when dealing with persons who claim to have been the victim of a sexual assault. Prentiss said those who respond to claims of sexual assault will now be trained in how to use the protocol.
District Attorney Andrew Womble said after the signing ceremony that the protocol is “an absolutely important document” for moving forward criminal cases that involve sexual assault claims.
“It’s a road map about what can be done and what kind of evidence can be collected,” Womble said. “Certainly, we look forward to putting these procedures in place and having (the protocol) work effectively for victims and citizens of Pasquotank-Camden and surrounding counties.”
Womble also praised Andrea Powell, a legal assistant in his office who works with victims of sexual assault cases.
Powell doubles as chairwoman of the local sexual assault response team ever since it formed.
“She has always done a fabulous job, very caring, very passionate about her job,” he said. “And that’s what it takes when you deal with people, citizens and victims who have been harmed and hurt.”
Hopeline Director Melanie Jordan, who also signed the protocol, said afterward that it was a good example of the community coming together to advocate for sexual assault victims.
“It kind of ends victimization at an early stage,” she said.
“I think it’s going to be a great thing,” added Pasquotank Sheriff Randy Cartwright, who also signed the protocol. “I’m very impressed with the work they’ve put into it, and I think it’s going to only make the investigations of these types of crimes a lot better.”
Elizabeth City State University campus police Chief John Manley wasn’t one of the signers of the document, but he attended the signing ceremony and praised the effort.
“It’s an awesome opportunity for us continuing to work together collaboratively, which certainly should serve the community at large in a much, much, much more professional way,” he said.
On Tuesday, February 2nd, the region’s chief prosecutor and three top law enforcement officials joined the president of the hospital and the leader of the local rape crisis center in signing their names to a sexual assault response protocol.
The protocol, which is 52 pages long, will serve as a guide for law enforcement, hospital personnel, crisis advocates and the District Attorney’s Office when responding reports of sexual violence. The protocol is also designed to offer a compassionate response to someone making a sexual assault claim.