(originally posted www.dallasnews.com)
By SARAH MERVOSH
Courtney Underwood, executive director of Safer Dallas Better Dallas’ initiative to expand rape services, spoke with donors on Thursday.
For the first time, sexual assault victims in southern Dallas will be able to go somewhere familiar and close to home if they want a rape exam after an attack.
Methodist Dallas Medical Center in north Oak Cliff began offering the specialized forensic exams this month, a move officials say is long overdue. The hospital is now the nearest option for victims living in crime-ridden areas where most of the city’s sexual assaults occur.
Methodist’s program “represents a powerful step forward in bridging a dangerous gap in services,” Courtney Underwood, executive director of Safer Dallas Better Dallas’ initiative to expand rape services, said at a news conference Thursday.
She said it also sends a message: “Neither privilege nor discrimination will determine who receives services and compassion.”
Dallas Police Chief David Brown and Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins were among those on hand Thursday to publicly applaud the addition of the rape exams. The kits are critical to documenting an assault and preserving evidence needed to nab perpetrators.
Officials hope the change will help address a long-standing concern among poor and minority communities there that feel they aren’t afforded the same resources as those in the north.
“Unfortunately, Dallas has a perceived — and maybe a real — impression that individuals from the southern sector don’t receive services like those in the north,” Watkins said. “This program gives us credibility. It gives us the ability to stand up … and say, ‘Because you’re from South Dallas, you will be treated just as those individuals from North Dallas.’”
Two hospitals north of downtown — Parkland Memorial Hospital and Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas — already offer rape exams. Now, Methodist will provide the free service for victims 14 and older.
That’s still only three of 47 hospitals in Dallas County, but that could change in the future. Recent legislation requires that all emergency rooms offer rape exams.
Carolyn Hudson, who was raped by an elder in her church when he had advanced AIDS, welcomes the expansion of sexual assault exams. The Dallas Morning News does not generally name victims of sex crimes unless they agree to be identified.
Methodist didn’t offer rape kits at the time of her 2008 attack, and Hudson had to travel about 30 minutes from her Cedar Hill home to Parkland Memorial Hospital.
“It was far and it was different,” said Hudson, who is now 63 and believes she is HIV-free.
Hudson was certain about prosecuting her attacker, Nathanial Tumbwe, who is serving a 15-year sentence. But she said the hospital’s location would be especially relevant to a victim hesitant to press charges.
“Someone who is on the fence — ‘Do I want to go to the hospital? Do I don’t?’ — that would help them make up their mind,” Hudson said.
Gwendolyn Jones is president of Arise International Inc., a DeSoto-based support group for assault survivors, and called the initiative at Methodist “a huge victory for the community.” She said she hopes it encourages additional services to trickle into the southern part of the county.
“Arise doesn’t have to be the only agency here,” she said. “There is a lot of work to be done.”
Underwood, who is a teenage sexual assault survivor, understands that need better than many.
“When I looked for help in Dallas, there was none in my community,” she said.
Now for more victims, there will be.
Fewer than 18 percent of sexual assaults nationwide are reported.
Two times as many women are sexually assaulted as are diagnosed with breast cancer.
25 percent of women and 10 percent of men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.
SOURCE: Dallas Morning News research.