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Combating sexual violence: Local agencies set to embark on two-year collaborative grant project

WORTHINGTON -- Local agencies engaged in part of the criminal justice process, in collaboration with advocates of sexual assault victims, will soon begin examining their response to sexual violence crimes in a effort to strengthen that response t...

WORTHINGTON - Local agencies engaged in part of the criminal justice process, in collaboration with advocates of sexual assault victims, will soon begin examining their response to sexual violence crimes in a effort to strengthen that response to best support victims.

Thanks to grant funding from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, a two-year collaborative project between grant writer Southwest Crisis Center, the Worthington Police Department, Nobles County Sheriff’s Office and Nobles County Attorney’s Office officially kicks off Friday at Minnesota West Community and Technical College, Worthington campus. Lunch and networking followed by a short presentation is scheduled to begin at noon and last until 1:30 p.m.

The luncheon kickoff is open to local community members who have or may work with survivors of sexual violence, community leaders or other interested community members. Those interested in attending should RSVP to kaity@mnswcc.org .

Then, from 2 to 4 p.m. roundtable participants will discuss the community’s current response to sexual violence crimes. Included will be what’s working, suggestions for improvement and what supports or assistance would help foster benefitial changes in how the community addresses sexual violence, said SWCC Executive Director Sara Wahl.

“There are so many aspects of our current response that are working really well,” Wahl said, adding that there’s always room for improvement and growth.

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Feedback from the kickoff event, coupled with a new Model Sexual Assault Investigation Policy adopted by the Minnesota Peace Officer Standards and Training in late January, will help guide a future timeline.

SWCC’s decision to apply for the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Services*Training*Officers*Prosecutors (STOP) grant was twofold.

“We’ve steadly seen an increase in the sexual assault cases that we, as an agency, are seeing,” she said, adding that doesn’t necessarily indicate sexual violence is occuring more often, but that the number of survivors reporting sexual violence and seeking help could have increased.

Wahl said local law enforcement also expressed interest in being able to implement the guidlines set forth in the recently adopted POST model sexual assault investigation policy, which states sexual assault crimes are under-reported to law enforcement. The policy also encourages law enforcement to improve the victim-reporting experience so more people are encouraged to report.

“It’s an opportunity through the grant to expand working in a team format to better serve victims and folks that have some type of sexual assault occurence in their lives,” said Worthington Police Capt. Kevin Flynn of the department’s involvement in the collaboration.

Nobles County Sheriff Kent Wilkening views the project as something the sheriff’s office needs to participate in to ensure investigations are conducted appropriately.

“Our role in this is to make sure any and all sexual violence against women is investigated properly,” he said, adding that ensuring deputies are trained appropriately is also key.

Collaborative training is also planned as part of the project, Wahl said.

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While the project focalizes on law enforcement, prosecution and advocacy, Wahl said other organizations and entities that work with sexual assault victims or families will also be engaged, informed and asked for feedback.

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