Ann Batchelder sees the effects of sexual assault first-hand. As the designated sexual assault nurse examiner at Tillamook County General Hospital, she said she serves at least one or two victims of sexual assault each month when they come through the emergency room or the Women’s and Family Health clinic adjacent to the hospital.
"The vast majority of those we see are adolescents or in their 20s," she said. "My sense is that older victims are less likely to report here."
Batchelder, who was raised in a tiny town in Ohio and has been working in Tillamook for the past 11 years, said the nature of life in small, rural communities makes reporting such crimes especially problematic for victims.
"The young women I see often experience a lot of self-blame and guilt, as well as fear. That's because they know everyone and they fear they will be stigmatized or blamed for the assault. Even among some of the mothers who bring their daughters in, there sometimes is a subtle undertone of doubt or that somehow ‘she asked for it’ through her behavior," she explained.
But Batchelder said the notion that young women report assaults as a way of punishing boyfriends or covering up for consensual sexual activity is false.
"Sexual assault is a violent act, not a sexual one," she noted. "Questioning the motives of a young woman who must go through the process we go through to gather evidence of the assault would be like questioning the motives of a heart attack patient who is reporting chest pain."
Batchelder said she always approaches sexual assault victims with affirmation and helps her patients through each step of the examination by providing support and information. She said the examination process can take three or four hours or as long as seven hours, depending on the case. At each step along the way, Batchelder said, she tries to have a patient advocate on hand from either Tillamook County Women’s Resource Center or the District Attorney’s Office.
One challenge with prosecuting the assailants, she noted, is that very few of the victims she sees are physically beaten by their attackers, so there is less outward physical evidence of the assault that can be used in court. For this reason, she said it is critically important that the physical examination be done as soon as possible after the event so that the less visible forensic evidence can be gathered before it degrades or is washed away.
Batchelder said she believes women in Tillamook County are very fortunate that the hospital administration has placed emphasis on women’s health care. She said the hospital has had specially trained sexual assault nurse examiners on staff for the past five years.
Batchelder offered the following advice to women who might find themselves victims of a sexual assault:
Come to the emergency room or a health care provider as soon as possible to get a physical examination.
Always ask for an advocate to be with you during the examination process. They can help explain the process and provide follow-up support and services to you later.
Get an examination immediately, even if you are not sure you will be pressing charges. Once the evidence is collected, it can be held until you decide what you wish to do. It can be discarded later, if necessary, but it cannot be obtained later if you ultimately decide you want to report the assault to law enforcement. Failing to immediately seek a medical examination can make subsequent prosecution very difficult.
Follow-up after the examination is very important. This may include both medical and emotional support. And it is important to seek this help from trained professionals. The counseling of loved ones, no matter how well intentioned, may not always be helpful.
24-hour helpline: (503) 842-9486 or toll free in Oregon 1 (800) 992-1679
Tillamook County Women's Resource Center, 1902 2nd Street, Tillamook, OR 97141 (503) 842-9486 ♦ 1-800-992-1679 ♦ TTY 1-800-877-8973 Office Hours: 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday